Iran nuclear talks stumble, extended until July

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Iran Nuclear Negotiations - last updated 11/24/2014
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Iran nuclear talks stumble, extended until July
Delegations of US Secretary of State John Kerry, Britain's Foreign Secretary Philip Hammondm, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif,German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi sit around the negotiations table during their meeting in Vienna on November 24, 2014. Iran and world powers looked likely Monday to miss a midnight deadline to agree a long-awaited nuclear deal, with a Western diplomat saying they would agree an extension and meet again next month. AFP PHOTO / POOL / JOE KLAMAR (Photo credit should read JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images)
Delegations of US Secretary of State John Kerry, Britain's Foreign Secretary Philip Hammondm, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, ,German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, EuropeanUnion High Representative Catherine Ashton, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif sit around the negotiations table during their meeting in Vienna on November 24, 2014. World powers and Iran are likely to extend their deadline of midnight Monday to agree a nuclear deal and will meet again in December, a Western official said. AFP PHOTO/ POOL/ JOE KLAMAR (Photo credit should read JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images)
(L-R) German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, former EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov pose for a photograph prior to a meeting of the closed-door nuclear talks with Iran, in Vienna, Austria, Monday, November 24, 2014. World powers and Iran are likely to extend their deadline of midnight Monday to agree a nuclear deal and will meet again in December, a Western official said. AFP PHOTO / POOL / RONALD ZAK (Photo credit should read RONALD ZAK/AFP/Getty Images)
(L-R) German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi attend a meeting in Vienna on November 24, 2014. At stake in the Austrian capital Vienna is a historic deal in which Iran would curb its nuclear activities in exchange for broad relief from years of heavy international economic sanctions. It could end a 12-year standoff with the West that has even raised the threat of Israeli military strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities. AFP PHOTO /POOL /JOE KLAMAR (Photo credit should read JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images)
US Secretary of State John Kerry delivers a statement in Vienna on the status of negotiations over Iran's nuclear program before he leaves Vienna on November 24, 2014. Kerry defended extending a deadline for a deal with Iran, saying 'real and substantial progress' was made during talks in Vienna and calling on US lawmakers not to impose new sanctions on Tehran. AFP PHOTO/JOE KLAMAR (Photo credit should read JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images)
VIENNA, AUSTRIA - NOVEMBER 24: U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lawrow, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, Catherine Ashton, Baroness Ashton of Upholland, Chinese Foreign Minister, Wang Yi pose for a group photo at the Palais Coburg on November 23, 2014 in Vienna, Austria. Negotiators from the U.S., Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia are meeting with Iran to finalize an interim deal over Iran's nuclear program. (Photo by Ute Grabowsky/Photothek via Getty Images)
US Secretary of State John Kerry delivers a statement in Vienna on the status of negotiations over Iran's nuclear program before he leaves Vienna on November 24, 2014. Kerry defended extending a deadline for a deal with Iran, saying 'real and substantial progress' was made during talks in Vienna and calling on US lawmakers not to impose new sanctions on Tehran. AFP PHOTO/JOE KLAMAR (Photo credit should read JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images)
US Secretary of State John Kerry delivers a statement in Vienna on the status of negotiations over Iran's nuclear program before he leaves Vienna on November 24, 2014. Kerry defended extending a deadline for a deal with Iran, saying 'real and substantial progress' was made during talks in Vienna and calling on US lawmakers not to impose new sanctions on Tehran. AFP PHOTO/JOE KLAMAR (Photo credit should read JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images)
US Secretary of State John Kerry delivers a statement in Vienna on the status of negotiations over Iran's nuclear program before he leaves Vienna on November 24, 2014. Kerry defended extending a deadline for a deal with Iran, saying 'real and substantial progress' was made during talks in Vienna and calling on US lawmakers not to impose new sanctions on Tehran. AFP PHOTO/JOE KLAMAR (Photo credit should read JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images)
VIENNA, AUSTRIA - NOVEMBER 24: US Secretary of state John Kerry holds a press conference after the talks between the E3+3 (France, Germany, UK, China, Russia, US) and Iran on the status of negotiations over Iran's nuclear program in Vienna, Austria on November 24, 2014. (Photo by Hasan Tosun/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (L)and European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton deliver a statement in Vienna on the status of negotiations over Iran's nuclear program before he leaves Vienna on November 24, 2014. AFP PHOTO/JOE KLAMAR (Photo credit should read JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images)
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (L)and European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton leave after delivering a statement in Vienna on the status of negotiations over Iran's nuclear program before he leaves Vienna on November 24, 2014. AFP PHOTO/JOE KLAMAR (Photo credit should read JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images)
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (L)and European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton deliver a statement in Vienna on the status of negotiations over Iran's nuclear program before he leaves Vienna on November 24, 2014. AFP PHOTO/JOE KLAMAR (Photo credit should read JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images)
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton (not pictured) deliver a statement in Vienna on the status of negotiations over Iran's nuclear program before he leaves Vienna on November 24, 2014. AFP PHOTO/JOE KLAMAR (Photo credit should read JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images)
FILE - In this Oct. 26, 2010 file photo, a worker rides a bicycle in front of the reactor building of the Bushehr nuclear power plant, just outside the southern city of Bushehr. Iran and six world powers have agreed on how to implement a nuclear deal struck in November, with its terms starting from Jan. 20, officials announced Sunday. (AP Photo/Mehr News Agency, Majid Asgaripour, File)
In this photo released by an official website of the Iranian Supreme Leader's Office, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei makes a speech to military members in Tehran, Iran, Thursday, Saturday, Feb. 8, 2014. Khamenei urged officials Saturday not to pin hopes for economic recovery on the sanctions relief from a landmark deal reached with world powers on Tehran's nuclear program. Khamenei also called on critics of the interim nuclear deal achieved on Nov. 24 in Geneva to be fair and give time to President Hassan Rouhani to pursue his policy of engagement with the outside world. (AP Photo/Iranian Supreme Leader's Office)
A picture obtained from Iran's ISNA news agency shows IAEA Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Safeguards, Tero Varjoranta (R), and Iran's new ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Reza Najafi (L) shaking hands after reaching an agreement, in Tehran on February 9, 2014. Iran and the UN nuclear watchdog agreed on new 'practical' steps to increase transparency over Tehran's controversial nuclear work, although a suspect military site remained off-limits. AFP PHOTO/ISNA/AMIR POURMAND (Photo credit should read AMIR POURMAND/AFP/Getty Images)
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif answers a question during a joint press conference with his Swedish counterpart Carl Bildt (unseen) in Tehran on February 4, 2014. Bildt is on an official visit to Iran to try to bolster the country's temporary nuclear deal. AFP PHOTO/BEHROUZ MEHRI (Photo credit should read BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP/Getty Images)
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (R) and the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency Yukiya Amano attend a panel discussion during the 50th Munich Security Conference on February 2, 2014 in Munich, southern Germany. The annual meeting of the global 'strategic community' was set to deal with thorny international issues, from the Syrian war and Ukraine's turmoil to Iran's nuclear programme and US online surveillance. AFP PHOTO / CHRISTOF STACHE (Photo credit should read CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP/Getty Images)
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VIENNA (AP) - Still facing significant differences between the U.S. and Iran, negotiators gave up on last-minute efforts to get a nuclear deal by the deadline Monday and extended their talks for seven more months.

The move gives both sides breathing space to work out an agreement but may be badly received by skeptics in the United States, since it extends more than a decade of diplomatic efforts to curb Iran's nuclear prowess.

International negotiators are worried that Iran is using its nuclear development program as a cover for developing nuclear weapons and they have imposed economic sanctions on Tehran. Iran denies the charge, saying it is only interested in peaceful nuclear programs like producing power.

After a frenetic six days of diplomacy in Vienna, negotiators agreed Monday to nail down by March 1 what needs to be done by Iran and the six world powers it is negotiating with, and by when. A final agreement is meant to follow four months later.

Comments by key players in the talks suggested that not much was agreed on in Vienna beyond the decision to keep talking. The next negotiating round was set for early December but the venue is still unclear.

U.S.-Iran relations have warmed since Iranian President Hassan Rouhani took office last year and the thaw has extended to the nuclear negotiations, which have his strong backing. On Monday, he urged perseverance despite the setback.

"Our logic has gotten closer, many gaps have been eliminated," Rouhani said in a statement. At the same time, he said the sides were "still some distance" from sealing a deal.

Rouhani has occasionally struggled to sell the idea of negotiating with arch-foe America to hardliners at home and he pledged "ultimate victory" for the Islamic Republic in securing a favorable agreement.

Monday's decision appears to benefit Iran. Its nuclear program is left frozen but intact, without any of the cuts sought by the U.S. And while the negotiations continue, so will monthly dole-outs of $700 million in frozen funds that began under the temporary nuclear deal agreed on late last year that led to the present talks.

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said the sides were giving themselves until March to agree on a text "that sets out in layman's language what we have agreed to do." Experts then will be given another four months to "translate that into precise definitions of what will happen on the ground," he told reporters.

Even the new deadline was not immediately clear, with negotiators saying it was July 1, and Hammond fixing it at June 30.

Among other issues, the two sides are haggling over how many - and what kind - of centrifuges Iran should be allowed to have. The machines can enrich uranium from low reactor-fuel level up to grades used to build the core of a nuclear weapon. Washington wants deeper and more lasting cuts in the program than Tehran is willing to give.

Past talks have often ended on an acrimonious note, with each side blaming the other for lack of a deal. But, mindful of hard discussions ahead, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry focused on praise, in an apparent attempt to maintain a relatively cordial atmosphere at the negotiating table.

Kerry, who arrived Thursday and met repeatedly with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohamad Javad Zarif, said Zarif "worked diligently and approached these negotiations in good faith."

"We have made real and substantial progress and we have seen new ideas surface," Kerry told reporters. "Today we are closer to a deal that will make the whole world, especially our allies in Israel and the Gulf, safer."

Hammond and other foreign ministers of the six powers also sought to put a good face on what was achieved. Hammond spoke of "significant progress," while German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said only differences about "technical details" remained.

"All the people involved here feel that there really is a chance to find out a way to each other and we are going to take that chance," Steinmeier said about the decision to extend.

But the length of the extension suggests that both sides felt plenty of time was needed to overcome the disputes on how much Iran needed to restrict nuclear activities that could be used to make weapons.

Obstacles far from the negotiating table could also complicate the process.

Democratic Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, chairman of the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, said he backed having the talks go longer because it has "maintained the tough sanctions regime" and kept curbs on the Iranian nuclear program.

Many others will likely be critical, however. Members of the new Republican-controlled U.S. Congress that will be sworn in in January have already threatened to impose additional sanctions on Iran and may well have enough votes to overturn an expected veto of such legislation by President Barack Obama.

New sanctions could very well derail the talks, as Iran has signaled they would be a deal breaker. Kerry said he hoped congressional skeptics would "come to see the wisdom of leaving us the equilibrium for a few months to be able to proceed without sending messages that might be misinterpreted."

In Tehran, hardliners fearful that their country could give away more than it gets under any final deal could increase pressure on Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to break off talks. The talks extension, however, appears to have the approval of Khamenei, the ultimate arbiter in his country.

Tehran residents hoping for relief from sanctions and a reduction in tensions expressed frustration at Monday's decision.

"The West is making a big mistake," said high school teacher Abbas Hoseini. "Instead of working with Iran and a close engagement, they are pushing Iran toward Russia and China."

An extension was widely expected as the deadline approached with neither side having the appetite for new confrontation that would renew the threat of military action against Iran by Israel, and potentially the U.S., as well as tighten the sanctions regime on Tehran.

Alluding to that alternative, Kerry declared: "We would be fools to walk away."

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