November 24, 2014 / 5:55 PM / 5 years ago

Iran's Rouhani says two sides' positions closer after nuclear talks

VIENNA (Reuters) - Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Monday that the positions of Tehran and six major powers over its nuclear programme had come closer after a week of marathon talks that failed to clinch a final agreement.

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani gives a news conference on the sidelines of the 69th United Nations General Assembly at United Nations Headquarters in New York September 26, 2014. REUTERS/Adrees Latif

“During the talks in Vienna many gaps were narrowed and our positions with the other side got closer,” Rouhani told Iranian state television.

Iran and the six major powers - the United States, France, Britain, China, Russia and Germany - decided on Monday to extend the talks until June 30, 2015, hoping to finally end the 12-year old dispute at a time when Middle East turmoil is worsening.

“I am certain that we will reach the final accord, if not today, then tomorrow,” said Rouhani, who won election in a landslide last year promising to ease tension with the West and improve Iran’s sanction-hit economy.

“We have had some agreements behind the scenes, but putting those on paper, we are still not there yet.”

The goal is a deal that could defuse wider conflict in the Middle East, open the door to ending economic sanctions on Iran and start bringing a nation of 76 million people in from the cold after decades of antagonism with the West.

While U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry cited substantial progress, he said that talks would not continue forever and that the coming months would be tough despite new ideas being floated. He did not outline what those ideas were.

Publicly all sides say it is still possible to reach a comprehensive agreement that would lift sanctions in return for long-term limits on Iran’s nuclear programme to ensure it never makes an atomic weapon.

Iran says its nuclear energy programme is wholly peaceful.

Kerry said there would be no additional sanctions relief beyond what was already agreed under an interim deal signed exactly one year ago in Geneva.

“We not only keep to the Geneva agreement but use the Geneva agreement for coming to a final accord,” Rouhani said.

While denying it seeks to make nuclear weapons, Iran has refused to halt its enrichment of uranium, prompting crippling U.S., EU and U.N. sanctions that have cut deeply into Iranian oil revenues and caused inflation and unemployment to soar.

“I promise the Iranian people that the centrifuges (enrichment machines) will not stop spinning, but ... people’s lives must continue to get better day by day,” Rouhani said.

Additional reporting by Dubai bureau; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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