U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton have begun a second day of talks in Oman as a deadline for a comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran approaches.
The extended discussions Monday are taking place after some of the participants originally had been scheduled to leave.
Still far apart
President Barack Obama said in a televised interview Sunday that the sides are still far apart in reaching a nuclear accord before the end-of-the-month deadline.
“Are we going to be able to close this final gap so that they can re-enter the international community, sanctions can be slowly reduced, and we have verifiable lock-tight assurances that they can't develop a nuclear weapon?" Obama said. "There's still a big gap. We may not be able to get there.”
The meeting in Oman is the Obama administration's best chance to push forward a nuclear deal with Iran before skeptical Republicans take control the U.S. Congress next year.
Speaking before departing Beijing on Saturday, Kerry also said there are "real gaps" in talks to reach an agreement with Iran on its nuclear program. He also stressed that the nuclear negotiations are separate from other issues, including possible cooperation with Iran in the fight against Islamic State.
Zarif, who also spoke ahead of Sunday's meeting, says sanctions imposed by the West will not provide a solution to the standoff over Iran's nuclear program.
"It is important for the West to understand that sanctions have never contributed to the resolution of this issue, sanctions are not a part of a solution, sanctions are the most important part of the problem, they're illegal in nature, they must be removed, they have not produced any positive result," Zarif said. "The only thing that sanctions have produced for the West are about 19,000 centrifuges."
Zarif said the disagreements that remain are how much uranium Iran can enrich and how the sanctions should be lifted.
President Obama said recently the U.S. and other members of the P5 plus 1 (Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany), have given Iran a framework for a nuclear agreement.
He calls the framework a step-by-step verifiable way for Iran to get out from under crippling sanctions and rejoin the international community. But the president called it an "open question" whether the Iranian leadership will do what is best.
The P5 plus 1(the permanent U.N. Security Council members and Germany) wants Iran to curb its uranium enrichment abilities to keep it from being able to build a nuclear bomb. In exchange, the U.N. would lift economic sanctions.
Iran has consistently denied wanting to build nuclear weapons.
Pam Dockins contributed to this article from Muscat, Oman.