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By Paul Richter, Tribune Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — Two days of high-level meetings among Iran, the United States and the European Union on Iran’s nuclear program ended Monday in the Persian Gulf state of Oman without visible signs of progress.

With two weeks remaining before a negotiating deadline, the meetings between Secretary of State John F. Kerry, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, and European Union envoy Catherine Ashton offered another opportunity for a long-awaited breakthrough in the multination negotiations.

State Department spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki did not claim that the talks had advanced, but described the discussions as an effort to “continue to chip away at a very challenging issue.”

She insisted that “there is still time” to reach an agreement, while acknowledging that officials review after each meeting whether there is still time to complete a deal.

Iran and six world powers — France, Britain, Germany, Russia, China, and the United States — are seeking a deal that would lift economic sanctions on Iran’s economy if it agrees to limit its nuclear activities to nonmilitary purposes.

Iranian officials told state media that there had been no progress during the 10 hours of meetings.

In a brief public appearance Monday, Zarif, asked whether the group was making progress, said, “We will, eventually.”

The Omani hosts for the meeting had set up a stage, complete with national flags, to enable the leaders to hold a news conference after the meetings. But the stage went unused, as Kerry hurried off to the airport to depart for Beijing.

Some diplomats have said in recent weeks that the talks were near a breakthrough. But those hopes have not been realized.

President Barack Obama gave a sober assessment of the talks in a TV interview Sunday, saying that a deal may not be completed.

Adding to the complications, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, stirred outrage by going on Twitter over the weekend to call for the annihilation of Israel.

Psaki said Obama administration officials “strongly condemn the hateful remarks made about Israel on Twitter from an account linked to the supreme leader.” The comments were “offensive and reprehensible” and “not conducive to regional security,” she said.

AFP Photo/Majid Asgaripour

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