Iran's talks with global powers on curbing its nuclear programme in exchange for an end to sanctions could be extended for another six months if no deal is reached by a July 20 deadline, a senior Iranian official has said.
US and Iranian officials held talks in Geneva on Monday to tackle ways of breaking a deadlock which has raised the likelihood that the deadline will lapse without an agreement.
The four-month-old round of negotiations ran into difficulty last month with each side accusing the other of making unrealistic demands, sowing doubt about prospects for a breakthrough next month.
Western officials say Iran wants to maintain a uranium enrichment capability far beyond what is suitable for civilian nuclear power stations.
Iran says it wants to avoid reliance on foreign suppliers of fuel for planned nuclear reactors and rejects Western allegations it seeks the capability to make nuclear weapons under the guise of a peaceful energy programme.
Hopes for agreement
Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi spoke of a possible extension to the talks in remarks in Geneva to Iranian media on the sidelines of meetings with senior US officials and the European Union's deputy chief negotiator.
"We hope to reach a final agreement (by July 20) but, if this doesn't happen, then we have no choice but to extend the Geneva deal for six more months while we continue negotiations," Araqchi was quoted as saying by Iran's state news agency IRNA.
"It's still too early to judge whether an extension will be needed. This hope still exists that we will be able to reach a final agreement by the end of the six months on July 20."
The No. 2 US diplomat, Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns, and Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, the primary US negotiator with Iran, met an Iranian delegation led by Araqchi in Geneva on Thursday.
US State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf said the "wide-ranging" session ran for more than five hours.
"They will reconvene tomorrow morning and expect to meet all day," she told reporters in Washington, as part of consultations before the next round of Vienna negotiations scheduled for June 16-20.
Araqchi, speaking later to the Iranian student news agency ISNA, described the atmosphere of Monday's talks with the Americans as "positive and constructive".