Delegates from Iran and six world powers have begun a final round of talks as the deadline approaches for a final agreement on Tehran's nuclear program.
Negotiators from Iran, the United States, Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia began the opening plenary session of the sixth round of nuclear talks Thursday in Vienna.
On Wednesday, Iran signaled it is ready to take concrete steps to ensure its nuclear program remains peaceful, but will not ''kneel in submission."
Speaking in a YouTube video, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif urged negotiators to use mutual respect in negotiations, rather than what he called a "spiral of escalation."
The parties face a July 20 deadline for a final agreement or risk the possibility that the talks could be extended and get tougher. Last month's attempts at a deal aimed at curbing Iran's nuclear program in exchange for lifting U.N. and Western sanctions ended in a stalemate.
The two sides are believed to be far apart on key issues, such as to what extent Iran will be allowed to keep enriching uranium and to what extent sanctions will be lifted.
Secretary of State John Kerry wrote in The Washington Post this week that Iran's leaders can "agree to the steps necessary to assure the world that their country’s nuclear program will be exclusively peaceful... or they can squander a historic opportunity to end Iran’s economic and diplomatic isolation and improve the lives of their people."
Iran says it does not want a bomb, insisting its nuclear program is strictly for peaceful civilian purposes.
The State Department warned that time is running out for Iran to prove it does not want a nuclear weapon.
"What we are asking for are reasonable, verifiable, and easily achievable measures. But we have not yet seen what choice the Iranians will make. This isn't one of capacity. It's one of will, and we will see what we can get done," said State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf in Washington.
U.S. Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said "good progress" on a nuclear deal has been made, with the United States providing limited sanctions relief after Iran took certain steps in the last six months.
"Iran [is] meeting its commitments to, again, get rid of its stockpile of 20-percent enriched uranium, not install new advanced centrifuges, provide for additional transparency," said Rhodes.
But, Rhodes said, Iran has not taken the necessary steps to assure world leaders of its peaceful nuclear intentions.
Choices regarding Iran will likely be made as the situation in its neighbor Iraq continues to deteriorate amid political turmoil and a Sunni militant group fighting to gain more territory.
U.S. officials raised the Iraqi conflict with Iran on the sidelines of last month's nuclear talks, but want to keep the issues separate. Singh said this is because the U.S. wants to avoid Iran using assistance in ending the turmoil in Iraq as a bargaining chip.
"I think the view on the U.S. side is that Iran will try to use the Iraqi issue or other regional issues as leverage in the nuclear negotiations," explained Singh.
For the next three weeks, the focus will be on finalizing a nuclear deal. And while Iran has said it is open to extending negotiations, U.S. officials say they will not drag out talks unless there is a genuine willingness for all sides to come to an agreement.