Iran reiterated Saturday that international inspectors would not be given access to the country's military sites, as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, met in Geneva to try to secure a nuclear deal.
The deputy head of Iran's negotiating team, Abbas Araghchi, said granting permission for U.N. inspectors to question Iranian scientists and inspect military sites was not part of the negotiations.
Inspection of Iran's military sites is a key Western demand.
Kerry and Zarif held six hours of talks with their delegations present, one month before a June 30 deadline for a final agreement on a nuclear deal. A State Department official described the negotiations as a "thorough and comprehensive discussion of all of the issues."
The meeting in Geneva is the first substantive session since Iran and six world powers — Britain, France, the United States, Russia, China and Germany — struck an interim deal April 2. Negotiators have been working on the details of a final agreement to scale back Iran's nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
The world powers are pushing for international access to Iran's military sites and its team of scientists to determine whether Iran is trying to build a bomb. For its part, Tehran wants sanctions to be rescinded immediately after a deal is reached.
Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has said international inspectors will not be given access to his country's military sites and scientists under any nuclear deal with world powers.
Araghchi made the same point Saturday, telling state television that interviews with scientists are "completely out of the question, and so is inspection of military sites."
Iran has insisted its nuclear program is peaceful, with applications for medical research and power generation, but not for developing nuclear weapons.
A senior U.S. State Department official told Reuters there had been substantial progress in talks in Vienna in recent weeks on drafting a political agreement and three technical annexes on curbing Tehran's nuclear program.
The United States has said it will not extend the talks beyond the June 30 deadline. "We really do believe we can get it done by [June] 30th and we're not contemplating an extension. We just aren't," the official told reporters traveling with Kerry to Geneva.
But France, which has demanded more stringent restrictions on the Iranians, has indicated talks are likely to slip into July. Iran's Araghchi also warned that the deadline might need to be extended.
'We will try' to meet deadline
Zarif, when asked at the start of the talks Saturday whether the deadline would be met, replied: "We will try."
Tehran-based analyst Saeed Laylaz said he expected a deal to be finalized despite resistance from opponents in Iran and the United States.
"Neither America nor Iran has a choice but to reach a deal," he told Reuters. "Failure to reach a deal will fuel tension in the region."
Mark Fitzpatrick, a former State Department official now at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said an agreement was likely sometime in July.
"The most difficult compromises have already been made," he said. "But the Iranians could overplay their hand on the incorrect assumption that [President Barack] Obama needs a deal more than they do."
Some material for this report came from Reuters and AFP.