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Iran

Iran nuclear deal up in the air in Geneva

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has warned it's no certainty a deal will be reached in talks being held in Geneva over Iran's nuclear program. His British counterpart has urged world powers to "seize the moment."

Optimism fades for swift nuclear deal

Fabius told France-Inter radio on Saturday that while world powers were hoping for a deal to end the dispute over Iran's nuclear program at the ongoing talks in Geneva, there was still much work to be done.

"As I speak to you, I cannot say there is any certainty that we can conclude," he said. "We are hoping for a deal, but for the moment there are still issues that have not been resolved."

Fabius said there were disagreements over how Iran's uranium enrichment would be limited to levels far from those needed to develop the fissile core of a nuclear weapon. He added that France would not accept a "sucker's deal."

'Seize the moment'

British Foreign Secretary William Hague said that the talks in Switzerland, which also include the top diplomats from Britain and Germany, had made "very good progress" and "momentum has been built up" for an agreement. However, he echoed Fabius' sentiment that there were "still important issues to resolve."

"There is now a real concentration on these negotiations so we have to do everything we can to seize the moment and seize the opportunity to reach a deal that has eluded the world," Hague told reporters, adding that it was "certainly not possible" a deal would be reached Saturday, when the Russian and Chinese foreign ministers are set to join negotiations.

The six powers working with Iran – the five members of the UN Security Council plus Germany – are known as the P5+1. They are considering easing the crippling sanctions that have devastated Iran's economy in exchange for rollbacks on its nuclear program.

Western countries have accused Iran of attempting to develop a nuclear weapon. Tehran strongly denies those claims, saying its program is for peaceful, scientific purposes.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who is coordinating the negotiations between the P5+1 nations and Iran, said she continued "intense" talks with the parties involved on Saturday morning. Ashton is expected to resume trilateral talks with US Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif later in the day.

Criticism from Israel

Israel, widely believed to be the only country in the region that possesses a nuclear weapon, has voiced strong opposition to any deal struck with Iran, despite not being involved in the talks.

"This is a very bad deal and Israel utterly rejects it. Israel is not obliged by this agreement and Israel will do everything it needs to do to defend itself and defend the security of its people," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Friday.

US President Barack Obama later called Netanyahu to assure him that the White House remained committed to preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Asked about Netanyahu's criticism, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said that since no deal had yet been reached "any critique of the deal is premature."

Iran and its six fellow negotiating powers have remained fairly quiet about the details of the talks thus far. A German foreign ministry statement described the discussions as difficult, and said that there was "still a way to go." At the same it noted that there had been "movement."

Kerry expressed a tone similar to that of his counterparts, cautioning Friday that "there are some important gaps that have to be closed."

dr/mz (AP, Reuters, AFP, dpa)

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