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Mon 23 Feb 2015 12:15 PM

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Kerry and Iran's Zarif meet for two hours in nuclear talks

Meeting included for the first time US Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz and Iran's nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi

Kerry and Iran's Zarif meet for two hours in nuclear talks
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif met for two hours in Geneva. (Getty Images)

US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian
counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif met for two hours in Geneva on Sunday in
another round of nuclear talks to try to narrow gaps as they pressed against a
March 31 deadline to reach a political agreement.

The meeting included for the first time US
Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz and Iran's nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi, who
spent most of the day separately negotiating technical details of curbing
Iran's nuclear program.

The talks are set to resume on Monday before Kerry
returns to Washington in time to testify before the Senate foreign relations
committee on Tuesday on the State Department's 2016 budget request.

Zarif told Iranian state media that mid-level
bilateral talks had produced "good discussions but no agreements",
and some differences remained.

"The fundamental gap, in my view, is
psychological. Some Western countries, the United States in particular, see
sanctions as an asset, a lever to exert pressure on Iran. As long as this
thinking persists it will be very hard, difficult to reach a settlement."

Zarif said the inclusion of Moniz and Salehi
reflected a need "for higher level people with all-embracing command over
all issues."

The presence of a close aide and the brother of
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Hossein Fereydoon, meant better
"coordination with the president," he added.

The talks took place behind closed doors with no
customary photo opportunity for journalists covering the meetings.

Kerry on Saturday cautioned against reading too
much into the presence of Moniz in Geneva, which US officials aid was decided
after Iran announced Salahi would attend. "There is still a distance to
travel," he told a news conference in London.

The negotiations between Iran and "P5+1"
powers - the United States, Britain, Germany, Russia and China - have reached a
sensitive stage with divisions remaining, mainly over Iranian uranium
enrichment and the pace of removing sanctions.

A recent U.N. report said Iran had refrained from
expanding tests of more efficient models of a machine used to refine uranium
under a nuclear agreement with the six world powers. Development of advanced
centrifuges is feared to lead to material potentially suitable for manufacture
of nuclear bombs.

Iran says it does not intend to develop atomic
bombs.

Kerry said US President Barack Obama was not
inclined to extend the talks again. The parties already missed a November 2014
target date.

Obama believed it was "imperative to be able
to come to a fundamental political outline and agreement within the time space
that we have left," the secretary of state said.

Zarif said Rouhani would not accept a small,
short-term agreement, nor a broad accord that left room for interpretation.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu,
increasingly critical of US policy, said it was "astonishing" that
the talks, which could end by allowing Iran "to develop the nuclear
capabilities that threaten our existence", were proceeding.

Any agreement would be "dangerous for Israel,
the region and the entire world," Netanyahu said on Sunday.