Iran's Zarif meets U.S., French counterparts to narrow nuclear gaps

Kerry, Zarif meet for second time in a week, but diplomat sees little progress since November

Iran's Zarif meets U.S., French counterparts to narrow nuclear gaps

World Bulletin/News Desk

 Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Jawad Zarif met his U.S. and French counterparts separately on Friday to try to narrow gaps over Iran's nuclear programme, with just over two months left before a deadline to reach a deal.

Iran and six world powers -- the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China -- have renewed their quest for an elusive nuclear accord after negotiators failed in November to meet another self-imposed deadline.

Zarif and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met for about an hour in Paris to follow up on a lengthy meeting on Wednesday in Geneva in search of an agreement that is seen as crucial to reducing the risk of a wider Middle East war.

"We discussed ways to overcome problems and gaps," Zarif told Iran's state TV.

A senior U.S. State Department official said the two men would see each other again in the coming weeks, but gave no details on the exchange.

Speaking in Washington, U.S. President Barack Obama told reporters the chances of striking a deal with Iran were probably less than 50 percent, saying he would seek to ratchet up economic sanctions if discussions broke down.

Kerry's prime reason for travelling to Paris was to honour 17 people killed by Islamist gunmen in the city last week. Zarif was in France to see French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.

"The meeting was an opportunity to reiterate France's determination to reach an agreement that guarantees the peaceful civilian nature of Iran's nuclear programme," foreign ministry spokesman Romain Nadal said after the 45-minute encounter.

The major powers hope to persuade Iran to curb its nuclear programme, which the West thinks is aimed at developing atomic weapons. Iran says the programme is for civilian purposes.

Talks are due to resume at political director level in Geneva on Sunday as the two sides look to reach a framework accord that sets key parameters by March 31 and a final deal by June 30 that completes the detailed technical aspects.

A senior Western diplomat close to the negotiations said that while everybody wanted to find a solution, there had been very little progress since November.

"The Iranians have still not made the necessary gestures to reach a good deal," the diplomat said. "I have the feeling that things have not radically evolved and that we're still relatively far from getting there."

There has been growing pressure on negotiators from hawks in Tehran and Washington. U.S. lawmakers are seeking to impose further sanctions on Iran, although Obama said on Friday he would veto any such attempts for now.

"We should not put ourselves under artificial pressure," said the Western diplomat. "Striking a weak deal with Iran would be a disastrous signal for the world and would encourage other countries in the region to follow this bad example."

Güncelleme Tarihi: 16 Ocak 2015, 22:16