U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political A
U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political A Reuters

Iran cannot convince the world that its current ability to enrich uranium is acceptable, the top U.S. negotiator said Tuesday ahead of new nuclear talks with global powers, according to AFP.

After months of intense negotiations the two sides have "identified potential answers to some key questions," Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said in a speech at an award-giving ceremony at Georgetown University.

But she warned "we remain far apart on other core issues, including the size and scope of Iran's uranium enrichment capacity."

As Iran and world powers prepare for new talks starting on Thursday in New York, Sherman said she expected the Islamic Republic "will try to convince the world that on this pivotal matter, the status quo ... should be acceptable."

"It is not," Sherman stressed, as she was given a top award for distinction in the conduct of diplomacy.

"If it were, we wouldn't be involved in this difficult and very painstaking negotiation," she said, according to AFP.

The five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (the P5+1) want Iran to scale down its nuclear activities to make any breakout move to manufacture a bomb extremely difficult.

In return Tehran, which denies wanting nuclear weapons and says a peaceful atomic program is its right, wants the lifting of tough UN and Western sanctions.

But Sherman stressed, "The world will agree to suspend and lift sanctions only if Iran takes convincing and verifiable steps to show that its nuclear program is and will remain entirely peaceful.

"We must be confident that any effort by Tehran to break out of its obligations will be so visible and time-consuming that the attempt would have no chance of success," she added.

Sherman insisted the ideas that the U.S. and its allies have put forward in the hopes of reaching a deal by a November 24 deadline were "fair, flexible and consistent with Iran's civilian nuclear needs and scientific knowhow."

Iran and the powers failed to meet a July 20 target date for an agreement and have extended the deadline to November 24.

Last week, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said his country and world powers remain far apart over Tehran's nuclear program and a "difficult road" lies ahead.

Asked how big the differences were, Araqchi told reporters, "Still big." He added, "We are always optimistic ... but we have a difficult road to go."

Iran has been taking an increasingly aggressive line in demanding its "right" to enrich uranium, with Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei recently saying Iran "needs" 19 times more nuclear centrifuges than the amount being offered by world powers.

Araqchi’s pessimistic tone regarding the talks was in contrast to that of the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, who said last week that while Iran is far apart from the six world powers, that gap could be narrowed.