BRUSSELS (AP) — European powers and Iran made little progress late Monday toward reaching an agreement to end the standoff over Tehran's nuclear program as an end-of-March deadline closes in.
"We're still making progress but there is a long way to go if we're going to get there," British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said, after talks in Brussels with his French, German and Iranian counterparts plus European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.
The talks were aimed at narrowing gaps in the positions between Iran and the world powers, as part of a 15 month negotiating process that could see Iran freeze its nuclear program for at least a decade in exchange for the gradual lifting of international sanctions.
Iran says the program is aimed at generating electricity and at medical research, but many in the West fear the Islamic republic is trying to covertly build atomic weapons.
"It's always useful to talk but we, the French, want a solid deal," said French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. "Certain points are yet to be resolved, we hope we will be able to resolve them but as long as it's not done, it's not done."
Mogherini, who is negotiating with Iran on behalf of the world's five nuclear powers and Germany, said that all sides were aware how important it is to seal a good deal and that it was not clear whether "a technical solution" to fill the remaining gaps can be found.
"I see the elements for a deal to be reached but I still see the gaps that need to be filled," she said.
Ahead of the meeting, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier urged his international partners and Iran to "seize this opportunity" of talks in Brussels and in Switzerland this week to finally clinch an elusive deal.
The world powers and Iran have set an end-of-March deadline to reach a framework accord on the way ahead. Some officials have said persistent differences mean negotiators could settle for an announcement that they've made enough progress to justify further talks.
Senior officials from the world powers will continue negotiations with Iran in Lausanne, Switzerland on Wednesday.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who represented Iran in Brussels, will also hold several days of discussions with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in Switzerland this week, as momentum builds in the nuclear negotiations.