By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The lead U.S. nuclear negotiator declined to give a final deadline on Tuesday for negotiating a final nuclear agreement with Iran, but said participants mean to finish the international talks at the end of the current four-month extension.
"Our intent is absolutely to end this on Nov. 24 in one direction or another. But what I can say to you is we will consult Congress along the way," Wendy Sherman, the under secretary of State for political affairs, said at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.
Iran and six world powers agreed to extend nuclear talks, and the temporary agreement, by four months after they failed to reach a July 20 deadline for a long-term deal. The deal would gradually lift sanctions, which have crippled Iran's economy, in exchange for curbs on Tehran's atomic program.
Many members of the U.S. Congress are skeptical about the talks and say they are concerned that Iran is negotiating only to win lighter sanctions while secretly continuing its pursuit of a nuclear weapon.
"I've been skeptical of the Iranians' sincerity from day one. And I cannot say that I am any less skeptical today than I was six months ago," said New Jersey Democratic Senator Robert Menendez, chairman of the Foreign Relations panel.
Sherman declined to discuss in the public hearing how long a final comprehensive agreement with Iran, including invasive inspections of its nuclear facilities, should last.
She said only, "We believe the duration of this should be at least double-digits. And we believe it should be for quite a long time."
Several committee Republicans said they were unhappy with the status of the talks. "The goalposts keep moving," said one, Tennessee Senator Bob Corker who is the party's leader on the panel.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Grant McCool)
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