Iran hopes to start drafting nuclear deal

TEHRAN - Iran hopes to start drafting a nuclear agreement with world powers on Wednesday but accepts tough negotiations lie ahead on a raft of issues, one of its top negotiators said.

Abbas Araqchi said that the Iran still hoped its differences with the six powers can be settled by a July 20 target date for a comprehensive deal, but that it "won't be a catastrophe" if the negotiations have to be extended for another six months. The main sticking points are the timetable for a full lifting of crippling US and EU sanctions, and the scale to which Iran would be allowed to continue uranium enrichment, he told Iran's official IRNA news agency.

"We hope to start work on Wednesday on drafting the text of a final agreement, not the big issues but the general framework and the introduction," Araqchi said. "There is a still a long way to go before we reach an agreement acceptable to all sides." Iran and the six powers -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, plus Germany -- opened a new round of talks in Vienna on Monday in the search for a deal by the July 20 deadline set by an interim agreement.

"We hope to reach an agreement between now and July 20," Araqchi said. "But if we don't, it won't be a catastrophe," he added, referring to a clause in the interim agreement struck in November that allows for the talks to be extended. Uranium enrichment is the sensitive process at the centre of Western concerns about Iran's nuclear ambitions. It can produce both fuel for nuclear power stations and, in highly extended form, the core of an atomic bomb.

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