Iran says six-month extension of nuclear talks may be necessary

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Iran says six-month extension of nuclear talks may be necessary
The President of Iran Hassan Rouhani gives a press conference after attending the fourth Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) summit at the Expo Center in Shanghai on May 22, 2014. Talks between Tehran and six world powers on a comprehensive deal over its nuclear programme are 'very likely' to reach a successful conclusion by a July 20 deadline, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on May 22. MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images
Yukiya Amano, Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), delivers a speech during the IAEA Board of Governors' meeting at the International Center in Vienna on June 2, 2014. UN atomic watchdog chief Yukiya Amano welcomed Iran's compliance with measures to lift suspicions about its nuclear programme on Monday, but cautioned that all doubt had not been cleared. SAMUEL KUBANI/AFP/Getty Images
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani arrives for a press conference after attending the fourth Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) summit at the Expo Center in Shanghai on May 22, 2014. Talks between Tehran and six world powers on a comprehensive deal over its nuclear programme are 'very likely' to reach a successful conclusion by a July 20 deadline, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on May 22.  MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images
Abbas Araghchi (C), Iran's chief nuclear negotiator arrives at the Austria Center Vienna after another rounds of talks between the EU 5+1 on May 16, 2014 in Vienna. A fourth round of talks between Iran and six world powers aimed at defusing the face-off over Tehran's nuclear programme ended after the US had voiced concern about lack of progress. DIETER NAGL/AFP/Getty Images
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL - MAY 16: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to the press ahead of a meeting with US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel at his office on May 16, 2014 in Jerusalem, Israel. Hagel is touring the region to focus on Iran's nuclear program and the Syrian civil war. (Photo by Mandel Ngan - Pool/Getty Images)
HATZOR, ISRAEL - MAY 15: U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel (C) stands in front of a Patriot missile battery while speaking to U.S. and Israeli troops after viewing Juniper Cobra 14 military exercise at Hatzor Israeli Air Force Base on May 15, 2014 near kibbutz Hatzor, Israel. Hagel is touring the region to focus on Iran's nuclear program and the Syrian civil war. (Photo by Mandel Ngan-Pool/Gety Images)
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL - MAY 16: US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel (L) speaks to the press ahead of a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the prime minister's office on May 16, 2014 in Jerusalem, Israel. Hagel is touring the region to focus on Iran's nuclear program and the Syrian civil war. (Photo by Mandel Ngan - Pool/Getty Images)
VIENNA, AUSTRIA - MAY 16: Irans deputy foreign minister Abbas Araqchi speaks to the media following nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 countries in the capital Vienna, Austria on May 16, 2014. The fourth round of negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 group of world powers aimed at reaching a permanent settlement to Tehrans controversial nuclear program has ended with no signs of progress. (Photo by Hasan Tosun/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
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By Stephanie Nebehay and Michelle Moghtader

(Reuters) - Iran's talks with six global powers on a long-term deal to curb its nuclear program in exchange for an end to sanctions could be extended for another six months if no deal is reached by a July 20 deadline, a senior Iranian official said on Monday.

The four-month-old round of negotiations ran into difficulty last month with each side accusing the other of making unrealistic demands, sowing doubt about prospects for a breakthrough next month.

Western officials say Iran wants to maintain a uranium enrichment capability far beyond what is suitable for a civilian nuclear energy program. Iran says it wants to avoid reliance on foreign suppliers of fuel for its nuclear reactors and rejects Western allegations it seeks the capability to make nuclear weapons under the guise of a peaceful energy program.

Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi spoke of a possible extension to the talks in remarks in Geneva to Iranian media on the sidelines of meetings with senior U.S. officials and the European Union's deputy chief negotiator.

"We hope to reach a final agreement (by July 20) but, if this doesn't happen, then we have no choice but to extend the Geneva deal for six more months while we continue negotiations," Araqchi was quoted as saying by Iran's state news agency IRNA."

"It's still too early to judge whether an extension will be needed. This hope still exists that we will be able to reach a final agreement by the end of the six months on July 20."

The United States said on Saturday it would send its No. 2 diplomat, Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns, to Geneva to meet a delegation led by Araqchi.

Burns led secret U.S.-Iranian negotiations that helped bring about an interim nuclear agreement between Iran and the major powers on Nov. 24, allaying fears of war over the dispute.

Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, the primary U.S. negotiator with Iran, is accompanying him on a team that includes senior White House national security staff.

The U.S. decision to travel to Geneva and meet with the Iranian delegation appeared to reflect a desire to try to break the deadlock in the Vienna negotiations.

"There are still gaps between Iran and the (six powers) in various issues and in order to bring our views closer, the other side must make tough decisions," Araqchi said.

"The goal of these negotiations was to secure the Iranian nation's rights in the nuclear issue for peaceful purposes," he was quoted as saying. "We hope that we will be able to achieve this in the remaining time under the six-month nuclear deal."

Another senior Iranian official, Takht Ravanchi, was quoted as saying that putting an end to sanctions was one of the issues discussed during the bilateral session with the Americans.

ISRAELI OFFICIAL: IRAN SERIOUS ABOUT TALKS

Iran, the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China included the July 20 deadline to reach a comprehensive agreement in the text of the Nov. 24 preliminary deal.

That pact, under which Iran shelved some sensitive nuclear activities in exchange for limited relief from sanctions, gave scope for a six-month extension if needed to nail down a final settlement that would end sanctions and remove the threat of war.

An extension would allow up to half a year more for limited sanctions relief and restraints on Iranian nuclear work as agreed in Geneva.

To avoid open conflict with the U.S. Congress, where hawkish lawmakers prefer the stick to the carrot in dealing with Iran, Obama would want their approval to extend sanctions relief.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton is coordinating the six powers' talks with Tehran. Her deputy Helga Schmid is currently in Geneva for the bilateral meetings with Iran ahead of the next round of Vienna talks scheduled for June 16-20.

Separately, in a shift of tone from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's scepticism, a senior Israeli intelligence officer said on Monday that Iran was negotiating seriously on a deal to limit its disputed nuclear program.

Brigadier-General Itai Brun, military intelligence's chief analyst, told a strategic forum that Iran was honoring the November interim agreement that Netanyahu had condemned as an "historic mistake" for easing sanctions on Israel's arch-enemy.

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