Talks between Iran and six world powers will "move to the next phase" in May. Officials have expressed optimism on reaching a comprehensive deal that would end sanctions in exchange for curbing Tehran's nuclear program.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said in a joint statement from Vienna on Wednesday that talks between world powers and Iran will reach an intensive phase when the country's envoys next meet.
"We will now move to the next phase in the negotiations in which we will aim to bridge the gaps in all the key areas and work on the concrete elements of a possible comprehensive agreement," said Ashton, who is the chief negotiator for the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5+1.
The five permanent council members are the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France.
The two sides are to lay out concrete elements of a deal that would curb parts of Tehran's nuclear program, which Western nations fear could have the capability to produce a weapon, in exchange for lifting international sanctions. Iran maintains its nuclear program is for peaceful, scientific purposes.
'Intensive work' to come
Ashton said in the joint statement, which was repeated in Farsi by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, that a "lot of intensive work will be required to overcome the differences which naturally still exist at this stage of the process."
Iran and the P5+1 are slated to meet for a fourth round of talks, again to be held in Vienna, starting May 13. They are aiming to reach a nuclear deal by July.
Zarif said Iran and the world powers are in "50 to 60 percent agreement" over the deal, which he expected to be reached by the July deadline.
China's representative told reporters that the world powers had "demonstrated a sense of urgency" in the talks and praised Russia's role in the ongoing negotiations.
"Everyone is aiming at that (meeting the deadline)," said Wang Qun, who heads the Chinese foreign ministry's arms control department. "Every party seems to be very sincere and very genuine in their efforts."
He added that Russia was playing an important role in the talks, despite the ongoing tension between Western governments over the crisis in Ukraine.
"This is actually definitely helpful to the overall result of the dialogue," he said.
Iran won't be bullied
Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said he had authorized the nuclear talks, but cautioned that Tehran would not be bullied and would not cease atomic research.
"Our negotiators should not accept any coercive words from the other party," Khamenei told a group of nuclear scientists and officials who gathered to mark Iran's National Day of Nuclear Technology. "The country's nuclear achievements can't be stopped, and no one has the right to bargain over it."
"Americans are well aware we are not after nuclear weapons, but they still raise the charges every now and then to keep up the anti-Iran hype," he added. "That's why I agreed to the government's initiative to negotiate, just to break the hype and expose the truth to world opinion."
dr/mz (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)