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Iran FM warns against scuttling nuclear deal

Iran's foreign minister warned critics on Friday not to let "illusions" about his country's nuclear programme scuttle a deal, voicing hope that a historic agreement will be reached soon.

WASHINGTON: Iran's foreign minister warned critics on Friday not to let "illusions" about his country's nuclear programme scuttle a deal, voicing hope that a historic agreement will be reached soon.

Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, writing in The Washington Post, said that President Hassan Rouhani's reformist government has offered "serious" proposals that would "provide assurances of the exclusively peaceful nature of our nuclear programme."

Zarif recalled the failure of talks a decade ago, accusing the George W Bush administration in power at the time of "mistaking our constructive engagement for weakness" and pressing unrealistic demands against uranium enrichment that Iran insists serves peaceful purposes.

"It would be tragically shortsighted if illusions were to again derail progress toward a historic achievement," Zarif wrote.

"There will be no better time to put an end to the unnecessary nuclear crisis than now, when all sides have much to gain and before the window of cooperation and pragmatic reason closes."

An interim deal in which Iran agreed to freeze nuclear work in return for limited sanctions relief expires on July 20. Experts increasingly believe that Iran and six world powers -- Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States -- will need more time to reach a permanent deal, although Zarif said he was "reasonably confident" of meeting the deadline.

One major sticking point is Iran's refusal to bow to demands to slash capacities to enrich uranium, which Tehran says it needs to provide fuel for future nuclear plants but which Western powers say is unnecessary as Tehran is far from building such energy facilities.

Zarif said Iran would not "abandon or make a mockery of our technological advances or our scientists."

But he scoffed at suggestions that Iran was on the verge of being able to build a nuclear bomb, saying that the Islamic republic did not do so even when it had little scope for negotiations during the 2005-2013 presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a pariah for the West.

"For years, small but powerful constituencies have irrationally advanced the idea that Iran can produce enough fissile material for a bomb in months," Zarif wrote.

"This would take several years -- not a few months."

While Zarif did not specify critics, Israel and many US lawmakers have lashed out at President Barack Obama for his willingness to negotiate with Iran, which has no diplomatic relations with Washington.

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