Iran says nuclear talks to resume in Geneva Wednesday

Iran's Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi (C) is surrounded by journalists following a press conference after a day of talks on Iran's nuclear programme, on November 10, 2013 in Geneva, Switzerland (AFP Photo/Fabrice Coffrini) (AFP/File)

Tehran (AFP) - Iran will resume negotiations with world powers in Geneva next week aimed at reaching a deal over Tehran's controversial nuclear programme, its deputy foreign minister said Thursday.

Top-level talks will begin on Wednesday, December 17, with meetings at the deputy minister level taking place two days earlier, state news agency IRNA quoted Abbas Araqchi as saying.

Despite making progress, the two sides failed to clinch a definitive deal by a November deadline and agreed to extend the talks until July 1.

A final agreement is aimed at ensuring Tehran will never develop nuclear weapons under the guise of its civilian activities, and would lift international sanctions that have crippled Iran's economy.

Iran denies that it is seeking the bomb and insists its nuclear activities are for solely peaceful purposes.

In their second extension this year, Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, known as the P5+1, will seek to strike an outline deal by March and to nail down a full technical accord by July.

Diplomats say both sides remain far apart on two crucial points -- uranium enrichment and sanctions relief.

Enriching uranium renders it suitable for peaceful purposes such as nuclear power. But at high purities it can also used as the fissile core of a nuclear weapon.

Tehran wants to massively ramp up the number of its enrichment centrifuges in order, it says, to make fuel for a fleet of power reactors that have yet to be built.

The West wants the enrichment dramatically reduced. That, together with more stringent UN inspections and an export of Iran's uranium stocks, would make any attempt to make the bomb all but impossible.

Iran wants painful UN and Western sanctions that have strangled its vital oil exports lifted, but the powers want to stagger any relief over a long period to ensure Tehran complies with any deal.

The conditions set by November's interim deal will remain in place until July, including a continued freeze by Iran of contentious parts of its nuclear activities.

In return, Iran will keep receiving around $700 million (560 million euros) in frozen funds per month.