There appeared to be no breakthrough in talks between world powers and Iran, a week before the deadline to strike a landmark nuclear deal.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and the foreign ministers of Britain, France, and Germany arrived in Vienna on July 13 looking to press Iran to make key concessions over its nuclear program.
But the European ministers left late on July 13 saying no breakthrough had been made, although Kerry remained for further discussions with his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, that are expected to continue on July 14.
Reuters quoted a senior U.S. State Department official as saying Kerry would "gauge Iran's willingness to make the critical choices it needs to make."
"[Kerry] will take the time necessary to have that discussion, and that's why they will be meeting again today, to see if progress can be made," the official added.
Britain's William Hague said that no "decisive breakthrough" was achieved and that there remained a "huge gap" on the key issue of uranium enrichment.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said that "positions are still far apart," and the ministers had come to "try to narrow differences."
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he and other Western foreign ministers had made clear in meetings with Iranian officials that "the ball is in Iran's court."
"It is now time for Iran to decide whether they want cooperation with the world community or stay in isolation," he told reporters.
Major Disputes Remain
The United States and Iran had warned earlier on July 13 that major disputes remained in the talks.
Kerry said that "obviously we have some very significant gaps still, so we need to see if we can make some progress."
Kerry's cautionary remarks were echoed by the senior Iranian negotiator, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi.
Iranian state television quotes Araqchi as saying July 13 that "we have not been able to narrow the gaps on major issues and it is not clear whether we can do it."
The main sticking point is uranium enrichment, a process which can produce nuclear fuel -- Iran's stated aim -- but also material for a nuclear bomb.
A senior U.S. official present at the Vienna negotiations said July 12 that there has been some progress in the negotiations but that on some issues Iran holds some "unworkable and inadequate" positions.
The U.S. official cited as one example of such positions last week's remarks by Iran's supreme leader, Ali Khamenei.
"Their aim is that we accept a capacity of 10,000 separative work units (SWUs), which is equivalent to 10,000 centrifuges of the older type that we already have," Khamenei said in a statement published on his website late on July 7. "Our officials say we need 190,000 SWU. Perhaps this is not a need this year or in two years or five years, but this is the country's absolute need."
The six powers want a sharp reduction, however, with Western powers saying that Iran's activities in this area should be a "fraction" of what they are now.
The senior U.S. official in Vienna also made it clear that if there is no agreement by July 20, the U.S. Congress and the president will maintain their positions regarding Iran and it is fully clear that all options will remain open.
The official told Radio Farda that without considerable progress it would be very hard to renew the temporary Geneva agreement with Iran.
Araqchi on July 12 warned that Tehran was ready to walk away if "excessive" Western demands caused the talks to fail.
"If we see the excessive demands persisting and that a deal is impossible, this is not a drama, we will continue with our nuclear program," Araqchi said.
Many experts believe that if Kerry fails to get Iran to give ground he will recommend to U.S. President Barack Obama that the July 20 deadline -- when a November interim deal expires -- be pushed back.