DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran believes it can wrap up negotiations with world powers over its disputed nuclear program in one year or less, Iranian media quoted its chief nuclear negotiator as saying.
At talks last week, the first since moderate President Hassan Rouhani's election in June, Tehran offered a three-phase plan it said could yield a breakthrough in the stand-off after years of diplomatic paralysis and increasing confrontation.
"If we see the same seriousness in future negotiations which we saw in the (October 15-16) Geneva negotiations, we believe that within six months to one year we can conclude the negotiations,"
Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said in an interview with the state-owned, Arabic-language Al Alam television channel.
"Perhaps within three months or six months we can reach a conclusion regarding the first step," he said, in remarks that were published on Monday by ISNA news agency.
The United States and its European allies suspect Iran is working towards a nuclear weapons capability, and have levied sanctions on Iran's energy, banking and shipping sectors that have battered the Iranian economy and caused a currency crisis.
Iran denies it is after nuclear weapons, saying its uranium enrichment program is purely for peaceful energy purposes.
The six world powers dealing with the Iranian nuclear issue are the five permanent U.N. Security Council members - the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France - plus Germany.
Washington described last week's negotiations as the most serious and candid to date, and the parties have agreed to meet again in Geneva on November 7-8. Nuclear and sanctions experts from both sides are to meet before the next main round of talks.
But all sides have stressed that wide differences must still be overcome to nail down a deal.
HOPEFUL OF BRIDGING DIFFERENCES
"Certainly there are serious differences between us and the other side," Araqchi said, according to ISNA. "We even have deep disagreements with each other. Despite this, we are hopeful we can achieve a common resolution to this dispute."
Araqchi reiterated that Iran would not stop refining uranium, saying domestic enrichment was a right of the Iranian people - but that the extent of enrichment was negotiable.
Iran has so far defied U.N. Security Council demands that it suspend enrichment and other sensitive nuclear activities.
Western officials have said Iran should increase the transparency of its nuclear program, stop enriching uranium to 20 percent fissile purity - a short technical step away from weapons-ready fuel, reduce its uranium stockpiles and take other steps to assure the world it does not want atomic weapons.
Iran says 20 percent enrichment is meant to provide fuel to run its Tehran medical research reactor, although Western diplomats and analysts say Iran has produced well over the amount it would realistically need for such a purpose.
"This right (enrichment) itself is not up for negotiation," Araqchi said. "Enrichment is part of the end goal ... but its dimensions and amount are negotiable."
Rouhani has sought to end Iran's isolation, partly in order to win an end to sanctions. Araqchi praised the United States for bringing one of the Obama administration's leading sanctions experts to the Geneva talks.
"The presence of this individual during the negotiations and the explanations they gave showed that the Americans at least are ready to show they are serious," Araqchi said.
(Reporting by Yeganeh Torbati; Editing by Jon Hemming and Mark Heinrich)