Iran's talks with six world powers on a long-term deal to curb its nuclear program in exchange for an end to sanctions could be extended for another six months if no deal is reached by a July 20 deadline, a senior Iranian official said on Monday, according to Reuters.
A fourth round of nuclear talks between the sides ended last month without progress and with both sides complaining that major gaps remained ahead of the deadline.
The ongoing talks seek to turn an interim deal reached in November into a permanent agreement. Under the interim deal, Iran committed to limit its uranium enrichment to five percent and is gradually winning access to $4.2 billion of its oil revenues frozen abroad and some other sanctions relief.
Western officials say Iran wants to maintain a uranium enrichment capability far beyond what is suitable for a civilian nuclear energy program. Iran says it wants to avoid reliance on foreign suppliers of fuel for its nuclear reactors and rejects Western allegations it seeks the capability to make nuclear weapons under the guise of a peaceful energy program.
The country’s deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi spoke of a possible extension to the talks in remarks in Geneva to Iranian media on the sidelines of meetings with senior U.S. officials and the European Union's deputy chief negotiator.
"We hope to reach a final agreement (by July 20) but, if this doesn't happen, then we have no choice but to extend the Geneva deal for six more months while we continue negotiations," Araqchi was quoted as saying by Iran's state news agency IRNA.
"It's still too early to judge whether an extension will be needed. This hope still exists that we will be able to reach a final agreement by the end of the six months on July 20," he added.
The comments came hours after the United States held direct talks with Iran on its nuclear program, and France announced it would follow suit.
Iran has urged the West to resist “any pressure from third parties” not directly involved in negotiations over its nuclear activities, a likely reference to Israel, which has warned against the interim nuclear deal signed with the Islamic Republic.