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Nuclear talks with Iran 'remain difficult'

Negotiators from six world powers are in Geneva seeking an interim deal with Iran to end the nuclear standoff. German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said there was still a lot of work to do.

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Iran nuclear agreement draws closer

Much of Saturday's negotiations involved the US secretary of state John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, in talks mediated by the EU foreign affairs and security policy representative, Catherine Ashton.

"We have reached the point of writing and it's difficult because we are insisting on Iran's national interests and its rights and we don't want Iran's rights to get twisted," the Iranian foreign minister said. "This is why we are paying a great deal of attention to words and phrases that each have their own meanings. There will be no agreement until we agree on every single issue."

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi described the talks as being in "their 11th hour," with most issues resolved but an agreement still elusive. "We have agreed to 98 percent of the draft ... but the remaining 2 percent is very important to us," he told reporters.

Britain's Foreign Secretary William Hague told reporters in Geneva that though discrepancies with Iran were "narrow," negotiations were still proving "difficult."

"They remain very difficult negotiations. I think it is important to stress that we are not here because things are necessarily finished," Hague said as he arrived in Geneva.

"We are here because they are difficult and they remain difficult," he added.

Hague was again joined by his counterparts from the United States, Russia, France, China and Germany for further talks with Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. The five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5+1, are seeking an interim deal whereby Iran curbs its nuclear program, in exchange for easing some sanctions that have crippled its economy.

The West fears Iran may be seeking to develop nuclear weapons, although Tehran has long maintained the program is for peaceful scientific purposes only.

Saturday marked the fourth day of talks since initial negotiations broke down without a deal earlier this month.

Key points of contention

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle again offered assurances a deal with Iran was in the pipeline.

"It's not a done deal," Westerwelle said. "We think there's a realistic chance but there is still a lot of work to do."

Key points include how far a short-term deal should go to shut down construction work on a heavy water reactor Iran is building in Arak, and how long into the future Iran would continue to be treated as a special case, subject to inspections, rather than a regular signatory of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty with routine obligations and rights.

ccp/dr/jm (AFP, Reuters)

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