Iran, big powers close to historic deal but sticky issues remain

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry leaves Stephen's Cathedral after attending a mass in Vienna, Austria July 12, 2015. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

(REUTERS): After more than two weeks of marathon negotiations, Iran and six world powers appeared close to a historic nuclear deal that would bring sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on Tehran’s atomic program, diplomats said on Sunday.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry cautioned that some difficult issues remained on the 16th day of ministerial negotiations between Iran, the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China.

“I think we’re getting to some real decisions,” Kerry told reporters in the Austrian capital. “So I will say, because we have a few tough things to do, I remain hopeful. Hopeful.”

Several diplomats close to the talks said an agreement that would end more than a year and a half of negotiations could come as early as on Sunday. In a sign that something might be in the works, both Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi were also due to join the talks.

French Foreign Minister Laurent said he hoped the high-stakes negotiations were finally drawing to a close.

“I hope, I hope, that we are finally entering the final phase of this marathon negotiation,” Laurent Fabius told reporters after returning from an emergency cabinet meeting on the Greek crisis in Paris.

“I believe it,” he added. “France’s position has been one of constructive firmness and I hope it will allow is to reach the end now, quickly, for a satisfying result.”

A senior Iranian official said an agreement was close.

“The deal is within reach today,” a senior Iranian official told Reuters. “But some issues remain that need to be resolved by foreign ministers.”

Iran and the six powers involved in the talks have given themselves until Monday to reach a deal, their third extension in two weeks, as the Iranian delegation accused the West of throwing up new stumbling blocks to an accord.