U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has urged Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to meet a March deadline for a framework deal to rein in Iran's nuclear program.
A senior U.S. State Department official said Kerry pressed his Iranian counterpart Friday during a two-hour meeting in Munich on the Obama administration's desire to reach an outline agreement.
The two officials met on the sidelines of a security conference in the German city and the meeting follows a pair of talks the diplomats held on the topic last month.
Their meeting went longer than expected -- lasting about two hours. As a result, Kerry had to postpone a meeting with the Egyptian foreign minister that was set for later Friday.
Pool reporters were present at the site but were not given access to the meeting. A senior State Department official told VOA Iranian officials did not to speak to the news media before or after the talks because they had a “limited amount of time” for the meeting and “wanted to use that time to focus on substance.”
In addition to Zarif, Kerry and their teams, EU deputy foreign policy chief Helga Schmid attended the meeting.
The official said Kerry reiterated the U.S. desire to move toward a political framework by the end of March. Negotiators agreed to stay in close touch and to try to meet again soon.
Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany, the so-called P5 + 1 [United States, Britain, China, France, Russia and Germany], are working against a July 1 deadline to reach an agreement on the scale of Iran’s uranium enrichment program.
The two sides have been working to reach an agreement that addresses Western concerns that Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons. Iran is hoping for an agreement that provides relief from crippling international sanctions.
Iranian state media reports say the country’s deputy U.N. ambassador, Gholam Hossein Dehqani, criticized the sanctions on Friday, calling them “illegitimate embargos.”
The sanctions “prevent the government from reaching the Millennium Development Goals and the objectives of social development” devised at a 1995 summit, he said. Iranian media reports say he made the comment during a social development meeting at the United Nations.
Negotiators missed a November deadline to reach an agreement. They are now trying to reach a framework agreement by March 24 and have given themselves until July 1 to reach a final agreement.
Kerry and Zarif have held a series of bilateral meetings on Iran’s nuclear status, including one last month on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Some members of the U.S. Congress had expressed frustration over the pace of nuclear talks. They threatened to move to impose additional sanctions on Iran if there is no sign of progress.
Last week, Senator Robert Menendez, who has been leading an effort to impose more sanctions, agreed to hold off until after the March 24 deadline for a framework agreement. He said lawmakers remained “hopeful” that diplomacy would succeed in reversing Iran’s chance of developing nuclear weapons.
“Many of my Democratic colleagues and I have sent a letter to the president," he said, "telling him that we will not support passage of the Kirk-Menendez amendment on the Senate floor, until after March 24th, and only if there is no political framework agreement, because, as the letter states, we remain hopeful that diplomacy will succeed in reversing Iran’s ability to develop a nuclear weapon capability.”
Menendez said he remains skeptical that Iran truly wants to reach a deal.
President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron oppose new sanctions they have said could jeopardize the ongoing negotiations.