West fails to seal Iran nuclear deal as deadline nears

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Joint efforts by US secretary of state John Kerry and three other Western foreign ministers have failed to advance faltering nuclear talks with Iran, with the target date for a deal only a week away.

“There has been no breakthrough today,” said Foreign Secretary William Hague after meetings with Mr Kerry and the foreign ministers of France, Germany and Iran.

The trip gave Mr Kerry a chance to ease an espionage dispute with Germany. After meeting with German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, both stressed the importance of their cooperation in solving global crises, yet offered little indication they have fully mended ties.

Separately, Mr Kerry spoke by telephone with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu about the escalating Middle East violence. Like the others, he also met with Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

But the dispute over Iran’s enrichment programme defied the Western foreign ministers’ combined diplomatic muscle.

Tehran says it needs to expand enrichment to make reactor fuel but the US fears Tehran could steer the activity toward manufacturing the core of nuclear missiles. The US wants deep enrichment cuts while Iran wants to greatly expand enrichment.

“There is a huge gap” over enrichment, said Mr Hague, in comments echoed by the other foreign ministers.

The dispute and other differences mean that six world powers and Tehran will continue negotiations until July 20 and could decide to extend their talks past that informal deadline for a deal. Such an agreement would buy time to negotiate a pact limiting the scope of such programmes in exchange for a full end to nuclear-related sanctions against 

“Obviously we have some very significant gaps still, so we need to see if we can make some progress,” Mr Kerry told reporters before a meeting with European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who is convening the talks.