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Tue 7 Jul 2015 12:30 PM

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Kerry urges Iran to make "hard choices", says US ready to walk

US Secretary of State says both sides had made "genuine progress" in talks over the last few days but "several of the most difficult issues" remain

Kerry urges Iran to make "hard choices", says US ready to walk
(Getty Images)

An Iranian
nuclear agreement is possible this week if Iran makes the "hard
choices" necessary, but if not, the United States stands ready to walk
away from the negotiations, US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Sunday.

Speaking during
a break from one of his four meetings with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad
Javad Zarif on Sunday, Kerry said they had made "genuine progress" in
talks over the last few days but "several of the most difficult
issues" remain.

"If hard
choices get made in the next couple of days, made quickly, we could get an
agreement this week, but if they are not made we will not," he said in
Vienna, where talks between Iran, the United States and five other powers are
being held.

Foreign
ministers from Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia began arriving on
Sunday evening as the major powers make a push to meet Tuesday's deadline for a
final agreement to end the 12-year-old dispute.

Kerry said
negotiators were still aiming for that deadline, but other diplomats have said
the talks could slip to July 9, the date by which the Obama administration must
submit a deal to Congress in order to get an expedited, 30-day review.

The agreement
under discussion would require Iran to curb its most sensitive nuclear work for
a decade or more in exchange for relief from sanctions that have slashed its
oil exports and crippled its economy.

US President
Barack Obama's administration, which has been accused of making too many
concessions by Republican members of Congress and by Israel, remains ready to
abandon the talks, Kerry said.

"If we
don't have a deal and there is absolute intransigence and unwillingness to move
on the things that are important for us, President Obama has always said we're
prepared to walk away," he said.

European
officials also said the onus was on Iran to cut a deal. After arriving in
Vienna, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told reporters the main question
was whether Iran would make "clear commitments" on unresolved issues.

German Foreign
Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said it would take courage and compromise to
reach a deal. "I hope that this courage exists above all ... in
Tehran," he told reporters.

The major
powers suspect Iran of trying to develop a nuclear weapons capability. Iran
says its nuclear program is solely for peaceful purposes such as producing
medical isotopes and generating electricity.

The top US and
Iranian diplomats met for a sixth consecutive day on Sunday to try to resolve
obstacles to a nuclear accord, including when Iran would get sanctions relief
and what advanced research and development it may pursue.

Keeping up a
what has been a steady stream of criticism, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu said the United States and major powers were negotiating "a bad
deal".

"It seems
that the nuclear talks (with) Iran have yielded a collapse, not a
breakthrough," he said, in remarks released by his office.

Iran's
semi-official news agency Fars quoted an unnamed senior Iranian official as
saying about 70 percent of a 32-page annex to the agreement had been written
and "30 percent is between brackets", meaning it was still under
discussion.

The agreement
itself is expected to include a political understanding accompanied by five
annexes.

"We hope
that the main portion of this (annex) will be cleared up today, and if any
issues remain, they will be discussed at higher-level meetings, so that we can
reach a solution," the official said.

He said that
issues under discussion include Iran's uranium enrichment facilities at Fordow
and Natanz, its Arak heavy-water nuclear reactor under construction and
research and development.

While they have
made some progress on the type of bilateral sanctions relief that Iran may
receive, the two sides remain divided on such issues as lifting United Nations
sanctions and on its research and development of advanced centrifuges.

Diplomats close
to the negotiations said they had tentative agreement on a mechanism for
suspending US and European Union sanctions on Iran.

But the six
powers had yet to agree with Iran on a United Nations Security Council
resolution that would lift UN sanctions and establish a means of re-imposing
them in case of Iranian non-compliance with a future agreement.

In addition to
sanctions, other sticking points include future monitoring mechanisms and a
stalled UN probe of the possible military dimensions of past Iranian nuclear
research.

Senior
officials from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN nuclear watchdog,
plan to visit Iran this week.

Another
obstacle in talks is Iran's demand to be allowed to do research and development
on advanced centrifuges that purify uranium for use as fuel in power plants or
weapons.