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Kerry Warns ‘Significant Gaps’ Remain on Nuclear Deal With Iran

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Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Vienna Sunday to participate in nuclear negotiations with Iran, and attempt to salvage a deal that officials say is not close at hand.

“We have some very significant gaps still, so we need to see if we can make some progress, and I really look forward to a very substantive and important set of meetings and dialogues,” said Kerry, who will meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Sunday, as well as officials from France, Germany and the U.K, according to a U.S. State Department official.

“It is vital to make certain that Iran is not going to develop a nuclear weapon, that their program is peaceful,” Kerry said.

An interim agreement last November between Iran and a group of powers known as the P5+1 (the U.S., the U.K., France, Germany, China and Russia) halted the expansion of Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for eased sanctions. The deadline to reach a final agreement is July 20, a goal that Obama officials sounded hopeful about reaching earlier this year.

But the tone in Washington has recently turned more pessimistic, and many experts now expect a six-month extension of the deal as the two sides struggle to strike a longer-term bargain.

Iran is pushing for a much greater enrichment capability than the U.S. is interested in granting, a senior U.S. administration official said on Saturday. “On some key issues, Iran has not moved from their, from our perspective, unworkable and inadequate positions that would not in fact assure us that their program is exclusively peaceful,” said the official, who noted that Sunday’s meetings are not about discussing the extension.

“All you had to do is listen this week to the public comments coming from some in Iran’s leadership to see that we are still very far apart on some issues, and obviously, on enrichment capacity,” the official continued. “The numbers we’ve seen them putting out publicly go far beyond their current program, and we’ve been clear that in order to get an agreement, that their current program would have to be significantly reduced.”

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday that his country “doesn’t see any benefit in Iran developing a nuclear weapon” and will continue to demonstrate its commitment to not developing a nuclear weapons program.

-With reporting by Michael Crowley

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Write to Nolan Feeney at nolan.feeney@time.com