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Tehran (AFP) – Iran and Russia on Tuesday blamed friction among world powers for the failure of talks in Geneva that had come tantalizingly close to a landmark deal on Tehran’s nuclear program.

The two states dismissed U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s claim that Iran had balked just as the so-called P5+1 world powers were closing in on a deal to curb Tehran’s nuclear activities in return for sanctions relief.

“The P5+1 was unified on Saturday when we presented our proposal to the Iranians… But Iran couldn’t take it,” Kerry, who took part in the talks, said in Abu Dhabi on Monday.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif rejected Kerry’s comments, while alluding to statements by his French counterpart Laurent Fabius, who has been pilloried in the Iranian media after reports emerged that he had scuppered the potential deal.

“Mr Secretary, was it Iran that gutted over half of U.S. draft Thursday night? And publicly commented against it Friday morning?” Zarif said on his Twitter account.

Zarif spent nearly seven hours with Kerry in Geneva as both sides worked on the draft text of an agreement.

Russia also denied Iran was to blame for the failure to agree on a landmark interim agreement that would have frozen much of Tehran’s program while the two sides worked on a comprehensive deal.

“The draft joint document suited the Iranian side. But since decisions at negotiations are taken by consensus, it was not possible to make a final deal,” a foreign ministry source said in comments carried by all Russia’s main news agencies.

“And this was not the fault of the Iranians,” the source added, rejecting Kerry’s laying of the blame at Iran’s door.

“Such an interpretation simplifies to an extreme and even distorts what happened in Geneva,” the source said.

The marathon, high-profile talks involving Iran and the P5+1 — Britain, France, the United States, Russia and China plus Germany — ended inconclusively early on Sunday.

Diplomats insist they are close to a deal, however, and the talks are set to resume in Geneva on November 20 at the lower level of political directors.

Fabius joined the talks on Friday and immediately cast doubt on a deal in a statement, saying that while there had been progress, “nothing has been agreed yet.”

The following day he was even less upbeat.

“There are some points on which we are not satisfied,” Fabius told France Inter radio Saturday morning, citing the “extremely prolific” Arak nuclear reactor and the question of uranium enrichment.

The heavy water reactor being built in Arak is a source a concern for Western powers because it produces plutonium as a by-product, potentially offering another route to an atomic weapon.

Tehran has repeatedly denied it is seeking nuclear weapons.

Iran, U.S. try to ease Gulf concerns

Zarif echoed the guarded optimism late Monday, saying “substantive progress” had been made in Geneva over the weekend and that a deal was “still within reach.”

But he cautioned Kerry that “putting a spin on the reality… does not help generate trust in the negotiation process.”

He suggested Kerry’s remarks in Abu Dhabi were intended to allay concerns of the “hosting country,” referring to unease among Gulf states who view Iran as a rival regional power.

Saudi Arabia and its Gulf neighbors have long feared a diplomatic breakthrough could lead to a full U.S.-Iranian rapprochement that could upend their longtime military alliance with the United States.

Zarif tried to ease their concerns, insisted that the negotiations were “only on the nuclear issue and not on (Iran’s) relations with the United States,” adding that he had instructed his ambassadors in the region to “garner the support of our brothers in the Persian Gulf” for an accord.

Israel, the sole if undeclared nuclear power in the Middle East, sees Tehran’s nuclear ambitions as a threat to its existence, and is strongly opposed to any deal that would not dramatically scale back the program.

The United States and Israel have both repeatedly warned they will take military action if necessary to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear-armed state.

Danziger Draws

Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons and one novel. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.