France's foreign minister said Iran and world powers have "hit a wall" in nuclear negotiations over how much sensitive equipment Tehran would be permitted to keep under a comprehensive deal.
As U.S. and Iranian negotiators concluded a second day of special consultations in Geneva, Laurent Fabius told the France Inter radio service that in four months of negotiations the group has agreed on some "technical points" but is at odds on the fundamental issue of how many of its 19,000 centrifuges the Islamic Republic could retain.
Western officials want the centrifuge inventory cut to "some hundreds," but Iran says it wants "hundreds of thousands," Fabius said.
Iran and the six world powers have been negotiating since February toward a deal that would give Iran relief from international economic sanctions in exchange for commitments intended to prevent it from developing nuclear bomb-making capability.
The six countries want to limit Iran's centrifuge inventory to prevent it from quickly producing enough enriched uranium to fuel a bomb. But Iran has been insisting that it needs more than 50,000 centrifuges so that it can generate enough enriched uranium to fuel what it hopes will be a much enlarged nuclear power system.
After encouraging signs during the first three months of talks this year, the two sides reached an impasse in May, with neither agreeing to make the concessions necessary to bring their positions together.
As Iranian officials continue to insist in state news media that they will never give ground, diplomats are acknowledging that they may need to extend their negotiating deadline from July 20 to January 20.
The Iranians are scheduled to have separate side meetings with Russian, French, and German officials in the next few days.
A meeting of all six powers – Russia, China, France, Germany, Britain and the United States – is scheduled for June 16-20 in Vienna.
Jen Psaki, a State Department spokeswoman, told reporters Tuesday that U.S. officials continue to hope to meet the July 20 deadline. She offered no comment on whether the Geneva meetings had yielded progress.
The U.S. and Iranian government are facing resistance to their diplomacy at home, and they would probably need to agree on some concessions for each side, to help ensure that the extension plan is acceptable to Iranian hard-liners and the U.S. Congress, analysts say.