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Iran nuclear talks extended to November 24

World powers and Iran agreed to extend their talks on Tehran's nuclear program until November 24, officials said, as Washington said it would unblock some US$2.8 billion in frozen Iranian funds.

WASHINGTON: World powers and Iran agreed to extend their talks on Tehran's nuclear program until November 24, officials said on Friday, as Washington said it would unblock some US$2.8 billion in frozen Iranian funds.

In a deal reached late Friday in Vienna, the United States would release the funds in return for Iran agreeing to convert some of its 20 per cent enriched uranium stocks into fuel, US Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement.

The top US diplomat stressed that since an interim six-month accord struck last November Iran had stuck by its side of the deal "to neutralize its stockpile of 20 per cent enriched uranium; cap its stockpile of 5 per cent enriched uranium" and not to install advanced centrifuges.

"It is clear to me that we have made tangible progress in our comprehensive negotiations, but there are very real gaps in some areas," Kerry said.

"Today, we have a draft text that covers the main issues, but there are still a number of brackets and blank spaces in that text."

Efforts have been made to close off a path to a plutonium bomb through Iran's reactor at Arak, and ensure a facility at Fordow could also not be used to build an atomic bomb. The United States has also sought to guarantee inspections and ensure that Iran's stockpile of low enriched uranium cannot be converted into bomb-grade material.

But Kerry stressed gaps the issue of whether Iran should retain the capacity to enrich uranium remains unresolved.

"This issue is an absolutely critical component of any potential comprehensive agreement. We have much more work to do in this area, and in others as well," Kerry said,

"To turn our back prematurely on diplomatic efforts when significant progress has been made would deny ourselves the ability to achieve our objectives peacefully," Kerry said.

As a result, the talks would be extended for some four months until November 24, he said.

During the coming months, Iran had committed to convert 25 kilos (50 pounds) of 20 per cent enriched uranium into fuel which will make it "very difficult for Iran to use this material for a weapon in a breakout scenario."

In return, world powers would "allow Iran access to US$2.8 billion dollars of its restricted assets" which have been frozen under a strict sanctions regime that has crippled the Iranian economy.

"Let me be clear: Iran will not get any more money during these four months than it did during the last six months, and the vast majority of its frozen oil revenues will remain inaccessible," Kerry insisted.

"And, just as we have over the last six months, we will continue to vigorously enforce the sanctions that remain in place."

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