World powers and Iran have agreed to extend a deadline for reaching an agreement aimed at limiting Iran's nuclear program until mid-November, citing progress made, but nowhere near enough to reach a deal.
The announcement came early Saturday morning in Vienna after the latest set of marathon talks between Iran and world powers. European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton read out a statement to reporters.
"While we've made tangible progress on some of the issues, and have worked together on a text for a joint comprehensive plan of action, there are still significant gaps on some core issues which will require more time and effort," she said.
Ashton said the six powers - the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China - together with Iran, had agreed to extend the timeframe for talks until November 24.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif read a similar statement in Farsi.
The two sides were working against an initial July 20 deadline to reach a deal that would curb Iran's nuclear program to ensure it cannot produce nuclear weapons. Iran has balked at that charge, insisting its program is purely for peaceful purposes.
In separate remarks posted on the EU's website, Ashton said the two sides would return for more talks shortly.
"Well the next step is that people will return to capitals, they will consider the issues, we will bring the E3 + 3 [6 powers] together again in the next few weeks and I will meet with my Iranian counterpart, Minister Zarif, in order to continue our discussions. And then we will move to that stage and work out the timetable to do that. Our ambition is to achieve this as quickly as possible, but we are determined to make sure that the agreement is a very good one," she said.
The extension will allow Iran to access another $2.8 billion of its foreign assets as talks continue. But Secretary of State John Kerry says that is no more than Iran has been getting during the past four months of discussions.
German, French reactions
Just hours after the extension was announced, Germany's foreign minister says the coming months until the new November deadline for a nuclear deal with Iran could be the last chance for a peaceful solution for a long time.
Frank-Walter Steinmeier called Saturday for Iran to show it is ready to "dispel all doubts" about its nuclear intentions.
In a statement Saturday also, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said France hopes the extension will allow Iran to make what he called "indispensable" choices to reach a long-term, lasting agreement. He said, a first indicator will be whether Iran cooperates with the International Atomic Energy Agency's probe into the possible military dimension of its nuclear program.
Skeptics in the U.S. and elsewhere believe Iran is just buying time by continuing the talks. Hardliners in Iran see their country's nuclear program as a source of national pride and are against reining it in.