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EU Says Iran Nuke Deal 'At Hand'

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini

The European Union's foreign policy chief has said a nuclear deal with Iran was "at hand," urging different sides to show political will ahead of a new round of talks scheduled in Geneva next week.

Federica Mogherini, whose predecessor Catherine Ashton chairs the talks in Geneva, said February 24, "We cannot miss this opportunity."

Speaking at Chatham House, a think tank in London, Mogherini said, "A good deal is at hand if the parties will keep cooperating as they did so far and if we have enough political will from all sides to agree on a good deal and sell it domestically."

"We have a series of internal domestic political dynamics we have to handle with care," she said, listing "tensions" in the U.S. Congress, Israel's elections and Sunni-Shi'ite rivalry in the Gulf region.

"A comprehensive agreement would be mutually beneficial for all sides," she said.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry earlier on February 24 said world powers "had made inroads" since reaching an interim deal with Iran in November 2013 on reining in its suspect nuclear program.

Speaking to senators, Kerry also said he expected to know soon whether Iran was willing to craft an "acceptable, verifiable" plan that would satisfy major powers that it is not seeking to develop a nuclear weapon.

On February 23, negotiators reported some progress at the end of two days of talks between senior U.S. and Iranian diplomats in Geneva, but said a lot of work remained to secure a deal.

Russia's negotiator, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, said after the talks ended that there is "growing confidence" that Tehran and six world powers will reach a comprehensive accord by a June 30 deadline.

"We are satisfied to see every new meeting achieve further progress," he added.

Wang Qun of the Chinese Foreign Ministry said, "The key parties, especially Washington and Tehran, are moving closer toward each far as uranium enrichment is concerned.”

“This reflects the strong sentiment from both capitals for an agreement," he added.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif earlier said the talks were "useful, constructive, and serious" but that there is still a "long way" to go.

Zarif, who met directly with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry during portions of the negotiations, said the talks would resume in Switzerland on March 2.

A senior U.S. administration official at the talks said "some progress" had been made and that the six world powers and Iran had been able to "sharpen up some of the tough issues" that need resolving.

The United States, Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany are seeking an agreement with Tehran that would rein in Iran's nuclear program in exchange for relief from economic sanctions.

Tehran dismisses Western suspicions it is using its civilian nuclear program to also secretly develop nuclear weapons.

After missing two self-imposed deadlines last year, negotiators are seeking a political framework by the end of March and a full deal by June 30.

The 12-year-old dispute over Iran's nuclear program has added to tensions in the Middle East.

Diplomatic activity has intensified as the new deadlines approach.

U.S. President Barack Obama has said a further extension would make little sense without a basis for continuing discussions.

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

Obama is under pressure from critics at home and from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has warned against any deal that might fail to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

Netanyahu, who is scheduled to make a speech before a joint session of Congress on March 3, said on February 22 that the talks could end by allowing Iran "to develop the nuclear capabilities that threaten our existence," and that it was "astonishing" they were continuing.

However, on February 24, Kerry appeared to take a swipe at Netanyahu, saying critics of an emerging deal with Iran did not know what they were talking about.

"Anybody running around right now jumping in to say, 'Well we don't like the deal,' or this or that, doesn't know what the deal is. There is no deal yet," Kerry told senators. "And I caution people to wait and see what these negotiations produce."

With reporting by Hannah Kaviani of RFE/RL's Radio Farda, Reuters, AP, AFP, RIA, and dpa