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Obama, in message to Iranians, says there is chance to reach nuclear deal with Iran

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, center, is seen off by Vice-President Eshagh Jahangiri, second right, the head of the supreme leader's office, Mohammad Mohammadi Golpayegani, second left, and deputy parliament speaker Mohammad Hassan Aboutorabi Fard, left, during an official departure ceremony as he leaves Mehrabad airport in Tehran, Iran, en route to New York to attend the United Nations General Assembly, Monday, Sept. 22, 2014. As world leaders gather at the U.N. this week, the U.S. and its European allies are consumed by efforts to blunt the savage advance of the Islamic State group, to end the raging Ebola epidemic and to make progress in nuclear negotiations with Iran. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama sent a video message to Iranians on Thursday to say there is a chance to reach a nuclear agreement with Iran if Tehran takes verifiable steps to assure the West its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only.

"I'm under no illusions. This will be difficult," Obama said in a message to mark the Iranian holiday Nowruz. "But I'm NEWS1committed to diplomacy because I believe there is the basis for a practical solution."

The United States and five other major powers are trying to reach a comprehensive deal to deny Iran a nuclear bomb capability after reaching a six-month temporary deal implemented on January 20.

Under that deal, which can be renewed, Iran agreed to curb its nuclear program in return for gaining access to more than $4 billion in oil revenues that had been frozen by Western sanctions.

Obama's Nowruz message was aimed at fostering good will with the Iranian people and encouraging them to welcome a nuclear agreement.

"There is a chance to reach an agreement if Iran takes meaningful and verifiable steps to assure the world that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only," he said. "Iran would have access to peaceful nuclear energy."

Obama's Iran overture is not without controversy in the U.S. Congress. A wide majority of U.S. senators this week urged Obama to insist that any final agreement state that Iran "has no inherent right to enrichment under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty."

In his Nowruz message, Obama said a comprehensive agreement would help move Iran along a new path and ease the economic hardships that sanctions have caused.

"If Iran meets its international obligations, we know where the path of dialogue and greater trust and cooperation can lead. It will mean more opportunities for Iranians to trade and forge ties with the rest of the world," he said.

Negotiators from Iran and the United States, France, Germany, China, Russia and Britain held talks on Tuesday and Wednesday in Vienna. The meeting was the second in a series that the six nations hope will produce a settlement on Iran's nuclear program and lay to rest the risk of a new Middle East war.

(Reporting By Steve Holland; Editing by Doina Chiacu)

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