U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says there is no link between international efforts to curb Iran's controversial nuclear program and other issues in the Middle East.
Kerry said in Beijing on November 8 that "there is no linkage whatsoever of the nuclear discussions with any other issue, and I want to make that absolutely clear. The nuclear negotiations are on their own."
His comments come amid reports that Washington rejected a proposal from Iranian officials in which Iran would aid in the fight against Islamic State forces in Iraq in exchange for flexibility among world powers in agreeing to a deal on its nuclear program.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after meeting with Kerry in Beijing that Russian and U.S. officials are working to reach an agreement with Iran on the nuclear issue by the November 24 deadline.
Kerry and Lavrov are in Beijing for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit.
Lavrov said officials from the six world powers negotiating with Iran on the nuclear issue are working with Iranian officials in Oman, where Kerry and EU negotiator Catherine Ashton are scheduled to meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on November 9.
Lavrov added that the two sides are looking to resolve "two or three outstanding issues" regarding the Iranian nuclear program.
But Kerry said although he is "hopeful" an agreement can be reached by November 24, "real gaps" still exist between Iran and the world powers.
Kerry refused to comment on a November 6 report by "The Wall Street Journal" that President Barack Obama had sent a letter to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei regarding the fight against IS militants.
Lavrov added after talks with Kerry that Moscow and Washington will try to "bring closer" their respective positions regarding fighting terrorism in the Middle East.
Lavrov said Moscow would continue cooperating with the Syrian government and would not be part of the U.S.-led coalition battling IS fighters and other Islamist groups in Syria and Iraq.
On the crisis in Ukraine, Lavrov said the U.S. and Russian positions on the situation in eastern Ukraine "do not correspond" but he encouraged Washington to help create a dialogue between Kyiv and the pro-Russian separatists who control parts of Ukraine's Luhansk and Donetsk regions.
Kerry said Russia and the United States have "some disagreements" about what is happening on the ground in Ukraine but that the two sides have agreed to "exchange information" about it.
He added that "the choices Russia makes will decide what happens with respect to sanctions" against Moscow for its annexation of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula and its role in the insurgency in eastern Ukraine.
Lavrov denied reports by the Ukrainian military that large numbers of Russian tanks, other hardware, and troops had entered Ukraine on November 6.
Russia's top diplomat said the United States should discourage "hot heads" in Kyiv from resuming military operations in trying to resolve the crisis in eastern Ukraine.
With reporting by Reuters and Interfax