World powers and Iran have agreed to extend their talks on Tehran's nuclear program by four months. The deadline for the deal, struck last year in November, was set to expire on Sunday.
After failing to close major gaps in marathon talks in Vienna, Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany, agreed late Friday to extend talks until November 24.
The extension came as the initial deadline loomed on Sunday. The group agreed on an interim deal in November last year under which the Islamic republic froze certain nuclear activities for six months in return for some sanctions relief.
"While we have made tangible progress on some of the issues and have worked together on a text for a joint comprehensive plan of action, there are still significant gaps on some core issues, which will require more time and effort," lead negotiator and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in identical statements.
As part of the deal, the United States said it would enable Tehran access to $2.8 billion (2 billion euros) in frozen funds, in return for Iran continuing to neutralize its enriched uranium stocks into fuel. The six powers want to prevent Iran from amassing uranium that could be used in nuclear weapons. However, Tehran's leaders insist that they only seek to make uranium fuel for nuclear power reactors.
Talks between Iran and the P5+1 group of Britain, China, France, Russia, the US and Germany are to continue in the coming weeks in various formats.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said Friday in Washington the "short extension" was "warranted by the progress we've made and the path forward we can envision."
"To turn our back prematurely on diplomatic efforts when significant progress has been made would deny ourselves the ability to achieve our objectives peacefully," Kerry said Friday from Washington.
However, he stressed that converting the enriched uranium was an issue that is an "absolutely critical component of any potential comprehensive agreement."
hc/mz (AFP, AP, dpa)