07/15/2014, 00.00
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Iran and Western powers still far apart over Tehran's nuclear programme

As the '5+1' group and Iran continue their talks in Vienna, next Sunday's deadline approaches, raising fears that it might be postponed. The meeting between the US secretary of state and Iran's foreign minister confirms the gap between the two sides. China calls for "flexibility".

Vienna (AsiaNews/Agencies) - As talks continue in Vienna over Iran's nuclear programme, Iran and Western governments are still far apart.

As fears grow that deadline for the agreement, next Sunday, will not be met, pressures are mounting on the parties to finalise a deal.

The western members of the '5+1' group (China, Russia, United States, France and Britain, plus Germany) were represented by their foreign ministers. China and Russia have kept a low, neutral profile, urging the West and Iran to show flexibility in reaching an agreement long advocated by the international community.

In the absence of a deal, Iran threatens to resume some nuclear activities that it "suspended" in recent months; conversely, the US Congress already has plans for "new and tougher sanctions" against Tehran.

In the latest talks between US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart, there were no signs that the parties were near overcoming the divisions that emerged in the last 13 days of negotiations in the Austrian capital.

On Sunday, Kerry met for two hours with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif who was accompanied by President Hassan Rouhani's younger brother, considered by many to be the Iranian president's "the eyes and ears".

The critical points are timing for an end to US and EU sanctions and what room much international inspectors will have to monitor Iran's enrichment programme.

Despite somewhat different motives, the 5 +1 group wants Tehran to curb significantly its ability to enrich uranium, leaving it with only a few hundred active centrifuges, for peaceful activities. for its part, Iran wants an end to international sanctions that are stifling its economy.

For international policy experts, the deadline might be extended if no progress is made by 20 July.

Complicating matters, Iran's highest Shia religious authority, Ali Khamenei, said that his country would eventually need as many as 190,000 first-generation uranium enrichment centrifuges or 7,000 advanced machines. Far more than anyone in the West is willing accept.

At the same time, Khamenei has also confirmed his full support for President Rouhani, even though he is deemed too "soft" by Iranian hard-liners for giving too much ground in the talks.

Already involved in other hot issues like the Gaza conflict, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also waded into the controversy.

Netanyahu warned that Israel remains uncompromising vis-à-vis Iran's nuclear programme. For the Israeli leader, letting Tehran keep any capacity to enrich uranium would be "catastrophic".

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