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Kerry mounts diplomatic push on Iran nuclear talks

– With a boost from Russia and China, Secretary of State John Kerry mounted a major diplomatic push Friday to reach an interim nuclear deal with Iran, despite fierce opposition from Israel.

But daylong talks, including a five-hour meeting that brought together Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, failed to resolve differences.

Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi, described the late-night session as “productive” but added, without elaboration, that “we still have lots of work to do” and that talks would continue today.

A senior State Department official said much the same but was not authorized to characterize the talks.

“The negotiations have reached its critical, very sensitive situation, and it needs decisions at higher levels,” Araghchi said.

Kerry and his counterparts from Britain, France and Germany arrived in Geneva with the talks at a critical stage after a full day of negotiations Thursday.

Word that Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and a Chinese deputy foreign minister were also headed to the talks provided fresh hope Friday for at least an interim deal, perhaps today.

Kerry tempered reports of progress, warning of “important gaps” that must be overcome in the elusive deal that would offer limited sanctions relief if Iran starts capping programs that could make atomic weapons.

But Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted that any agreement in the making was a “bad deal” that gave Iran a pass by offering to lift sanctions for cosmetic concessions that Netanyahu said left intact Tehran’s nuclear weapons-making ability.

Asked about Netanyahu’s criticism, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said “any critique of the deal is premature” because an agreement has not been reached.

The White House later said President Barack Obama called Netanyahu to update him on the ongoing talks and said Obama affirmed he’s still committed to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

“The negotiations have reached its critical, very sensitive situation, and it needs decisions at higher levels,” Araghchi said.

Any agreement would be a breakthrough after nearly a decade of mostly inconclusive talks, but it would be only the start of a long process to reduce Iran’s potential ability to produce nuclear arms, with no guarantee of success.

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