Iran, powers give themselves to Monday for nuclear deal

Behind the Scenes at the Iran Nuclear Talks

Iran and major powers gave themselves until Monday to reach a nuclear agreement, their third extension in two weeks, as Tehran accused the West of throwing up new stumbling blocks to a deal.

Both sides say there has been progress in two weeks of talks, but British Secretary Philip Hammond called it "painfully slow" and he and his French counterpart, Laurent Fabius, left Vienna saying they would return on Saturday.

Having missed a Friday morning U.S. congressional deadline, U.S. and European Union officials said they were extending sanctions relief for Iran under an interim deal through Monday to provide more time for talks on a final deal.

Iran and six powers - Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States - are trying to end a more than 12-year dispute over Iran's atomic program by negotiating limits on its nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief.

The sides remain divided over issues that include a U.N. arms embargo on Iran which Western powers want to keep in place, access for inspectors to military sites in Iran and answers from Tehran over past activity suspected of military aims.

Iran's foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said a deal was unlikely to be reached on Friday and negotiators would probably spend the weekend in Vienna. He sought to blame the West for the impasse.

"Now, they have excessive demands," he said of the major powers' negotiating position.

Britain's Hammond said ministers would regroup on Saturday to see if they could overcome the remaining hurdles.

"We are making progress, it's painfully slow," he told reporters before leaving Vienna.

Zarif has been holding intense meetings for two weeks with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to try to hammer out a deal limiting Iran's nuclear program in return for withdrawing economic sanctions that have crippled the Iranian economy.

An agreement would be the biggest step toward rapprochement between Iran and the West since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

But the negotiations have become bogged down, with final deadlines extended three times in the past 10 days and diplomats speaking of a shouting match between Kerry and Zarif.

Photos from the nuclear talks:

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John Kerry and Iran nuclear talks
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Iran, powers give themselves to Monday for nuclear deal
US Secretary of State John Kerry organizes his papers during a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill July 23, 2015 in Washington, DC. US Secretary of State John Kerry, US Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz and US Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew appeared before the committee to defend the Obama administrations proposed deal with Iran over the county's nuclear program. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
US Secretary of State John Kerry (L) sits next to British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond as they attend a plenary session at the United Nations building in Vienna, Austria July 14, 2015. Iran and six major world powers reached a nuclear deal on Tuesday, capping more than a decade of on-off negotiations with an agreement that could potentially transform the Middle East, and which Israel called an 'historic surrender'. AFP PHOTO / POOL / CARLOS BARRIA (Photo credit should read CARLOS BARRIA/AFP/Getty Images)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement in his office in Jerusalem on July 14, 2015, after world powers reached a historic nuclear deal with Iran. Netanyahu said after the deal was reached that Israel was not bound by it and signalled he remained ready to order military action . AFP PHOTO / THOMAS COEX (Photo credit should read THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images)
(From L to R) Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, US Secretary of State John Kerry and US Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz pose for a group picture at the United Nations building in Vienna, Austria July 14, 2015. Iran and six major world powers reached a nuclear deal, capping more than a decade of on-off negotiations with an agreement that could potentially transform the Middle East, and which Israel called an 'historic surrender'. AFP PHOTO / POOL / JOE KLAMAR (Photo credit should read JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images)
German Minister for Foreign Affairs Frank-Walter Steinmeier (L) ,French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius (3rd L), China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi (5th L), Federica Mogherini (C), High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, US Secretary of State John Kerry (3rd R), British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond (2nd R) and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov (R) sit around the table at the Palais Coburg Hotel where the Iran nuclear talks meetings are being held in Vienna, Austria on July 6, 2015. Foreign ministers from major powers began crunch talks in Vienna on Monday seeking to seal a historic nuclear deal to end a 13-year standoff, one day before a final deadline, officials said. AFP PHOTO / JOE KLAMAR (Photo credit should read JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images)
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (L), French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius (3rd L) and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (R) sit around the table at the Palais Coburg Hotel where the Iran nuclear talks meetings are being held in Vienna, Austria on July 6, 2015. Foreign ministers from major powers began crunch talks in Vienna on Monday seeking to seal a historic nuclear deal to end a 13-year standoff, one day before a final deadline, officials said. AFP PHOTO / POOL / CARLOS BARRIA (Photo credit should read CARLOS BARRIA/AFP/Getty Images)
US Secretary of State John Kerry walks delivers a statement on Cuba outside the hotel where the Iran nuclear talks meetings are being held in Vienna, Austria, July 1, 2015. Talks between Iran and major powers towards a historic nuclear deal are facing tough issues but are making progress, US Secretary of State John Kerry said during a break from talks in Vienna. AFP PHOTO / CHRISTIAN BRUNA (Photo credit should read CHRISTIAN BRUNA/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Barack Obama gestures while making a statement at the White House in Washington, DC, on April 2, 2015 after a deal was reached on Iran's nuclear program. Iran and world powers agreed on the framework of a potentially historic deal aimed at curbing Tehran's nuclear drive after marathon talks in Switzerland. AFP PHOTO/ NICHOLAS KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - APRIL 14: Sen. Bob Corker, Senate Foreign Relations chairman, arrives for a briefing on Iran nuclear negotiations with Secretary of State John Kerry and President Obama's chief of staff Jack Lew in the Capitol on Tuesday, April 14, 2015. (Photo By Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
French Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius (R) listens on as US Secretary of State John Kerry speaks during a joint press conference on March 7, 2015 at the Foreign Affairs Minister in Paris. Kerry had flown into Paris just a couple of hours earlier in a bid to shore up European support for the proposed deal with Iran ahead of a March 31 deadline. AFP PHOTO /ERIC FEFERBERG (Photo credit should read ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images)
EU political director Helga Schmid (CL) seats next to Iran's deputy foreign minister Abbas Araqchi (R) at the opening of nuclear talks between Iran and Members of the P5+1 group on March 5, 2015 in Montreux. The so-called P5+1 group of Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany is trying to strike an accord that would prevent Tehran from developing a nuclear bomb. AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - MARCH 03: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (3rd L) talks to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Senate Majority Whip Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) (L) as Senate Minority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) (R) looks on during a photo-op prior to a meeting at the U.S. Capitol March 3, 2015 in Washington, DC. At the risk of further straining the relationship between Israel and the Obama Administration, Netanyahu addressed a joint meeting of the U.S. Congress warning congressional members against what he considers an ill-advised nuclear deal with Iran. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
US Secretary of State John Kerry (R) is greeted by French Foreign Minister Fabius Laurent, on March 7, 2015, at the French Foreign Ministry in Paris. Flying in from London on the last stop of a week-long trip, Kerry will meet with the foreign ministers of France, Germany, and Britain to brief them on the status of the nuclear negotiations with Iran. AFP PHOTO/ERIC FEFERBERG (Photo credit should read ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images)
LAUSANNE, SWITZERLAND - MARCH 28: German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier arrives at Beau-Rivage Palace in Lausanne, Switzerland where he came for the nuclear talks with Iran on March 28, 2015. (Photo by Fatih Erel/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
LAUSANNE, SWITZERLAND - MARCH 28: German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier arrives at Beau-Rivage Palace in Lausanne, Switzerland where he came for the nuclear talks with Iran on March 28, 2015. (Photo by Fatih Erel/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
US Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman (L) and US Secretary of State John Kerry (2nd L) face French Director-General for Political and Security Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Nicolas de Riviere (2nd R), and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius (R) at the opening of a bilateral meetinh at Iran nuclear talks on March 28, 2015 in Lausanne. AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)
The director-general for political and security affairs at the French Foreign Ministry, Nicolas de Riviere (2nd R), and French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius (R) wait look on March 28, 2015 before a meeting at the Beau Rivage Palace Hotel March 28, 2015 in Lausanne. US Secretary of State John Kerry and Fabius met while in Switzerland for negotiations with Iran on its nuclear program.. AFP PHOTO / FABRICE COFFRINI (Photo credit should read FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif (C) takes a walk before meetings at the Beau Rivage Palace Hotel March 28, 2015 in Lausanne. Iranian officials are in Switzerland to continue negotiations on their nuclear program with other world powers. AFP PHOTO / POOL / BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
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DEADLINE MISSED

The negotiators missed a Friday morning deadline set by the U.S. Congress for an expedited 30-day review of the deal. Any deal sent to Congress before Sept. 7 would now be subject to a 60 day review period, accounting for lawmakers' summer recess.

U.S. officials had previously expressed concern that the extended review would provide more time for any deal to unravel, but have played down that risk in the last few days as it became increasingly likely that the deadline would not be met.

On Thursday, Kerry suggested Washington's patience was running out: "We can't wait forever," he told reporters. "If the tough decisions don't get made, we are absolutely prepared to call an end to this."

Ali Akbar Velayati, top adviser to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called Kerry's remarks "part of America's psychological warfare against Iran".

A senior Iranian official speaking on condition of anonymity said the United States and the other powers were shifting their positions and backtracking on an April 2 interim agreement that was meant to lay the ground for a final deal.

"Suddenly everyone has their own red lines. Britain has its red line, the U.S. has its red line, France, Germany," the official said.

Back in Iran, Friday provided a reminder of the depth of more than three decades of enmity between Iran and the West that a deal could help overcome.

Iranians rallied for the last Friday of the fasting month of Ramadan, observed in Iran as "Qods Day" or "Death to Israel day", to show support for Palestinians, protest against Israel and chant slogans against the "Great Satan" United States.

OPTIMISTS

Western countries suspect Iran of seeking the capability to make nuclear weapons. Iransays it has the right to peaceful nuclear technology.

Over the past two years, the nuclear talks have brought about the first intensive direct diplomacy between the United States and Iran since Iranian revolutionaries stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979 and held hostages for over a year.

A successful outcome would be a triumph both for U.S. President Barack Obama and Iran's President Hassan Rouhani, a pragmatist elected in 2013 on a pledge to reduce Iran's international isolation. Optimists say a deal could help reshape Middle East alliances at a time when Washington and Tehran face a common foe in the Sunni militant group Islamic State.

But both presidents face scepticism from powerful hardliners at home, making it difficult to bridge final differences.

(Additional Reporting By Louis Charbonneau, Parisa Hafezi,and Shadia Nasralla; Writing by Parisa Hafezi, John Irish and Arshad Mohammed; editing by Peter Graff and Philippa Fletcher)

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