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By Jonathan Tirone, Henry Meyer and John Follain, Bloomberg News (TNS)

VIENNA –– U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry tempered expectations that a nuclear deal with Iran is imminent as foreign ministers from world powers rejoined a ninth straight day of negotiations.

While progress continues to be made at the talks, “we are not yet where we need to be on several of the most difficult issues,” Kerry said Sunday at Vienna’s Palais Coburg, where he met for much of the day with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

An agreement would allow energy-rich Iran back into global oil and natural-gas markets as sanctions are lifted. The U.S., whose allies in the region are wary of Iran’s influence, says it will sign only a deal that restricts the Islamic Republic’s ability to make nuclear weapons. Iran says its program is entirely peaceful.

Two Western diplomats earlier in the day had cited optimism that a deal could be announced as early as Monday. Kerry said negotiators had their sight set on July 7. That’s the date that the interim accord with Iran is currently due to expire, after diplomats gave themselves an extra week.

Another extension “is not a desired alternative for any of the parties,” said Zarif’s deputy, Abbas Araghchi.

Araghchi said on Saturday that a draft agreement with five annexes is in circulation, and foreign ministers now have to make the final decisions on issues of timing and reciprocity. He said any deal struck in Vienna won’t be final until it’s passed through U.S. and Iranian legislatures.

This is the 20th round of high-level talks since the phone conversation between U.S. President Barack Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani almost two years ago.

“If a deal can be closed, it is now,” the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said on Sunday as she returned to Vienna. There is no “Plan B” should the talks collapse, she said. France’s Laurent Fabius said the key remaining question is whether “the Iranians will accept to make clear commitments on what has not yet been clarified.”

Kerry said the urgency won’t make negotiators less rigorous. “We’re not going to shave anywhere at the margins in order just to get an agreement,” he said. “This is something that the world will analyze, experts everywhere will look at. None of us are going to be content to do something that can’t pass scrutiny.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a critic of the deal emerging in Vienna, called the reports of progress in talks a “breakdown” and not a breakthrough.

U.S. Senator Bob Corker, R-Tenn., chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, also warned against rushing for a deal that will be too lenient on Iran.

“We’ve gone from dismantling their program to managing proliferation,” Corker said on Sunday on CBS’s Face the Nation. “That’s the biggest concern.”

(Indira A.R. Lakshmanan and Kambiz Foroohar contributed to this report.)

(c)2015 Bloomberg News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: ©afp.com / Kena Betancur

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