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Published: Tuesday July 15, 2014 MYT 4:06:04 AM
Updated: Tuesday July 15, 2014 MYT 4:06:04 AM

Kerry says had good talks with Iran's Zarif, EU's Ashton

VIENNA (Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Monday he had a good meeting with his Iranian counterpart and a senior European Union official over Tehran's nuclear programme ahead of a July 20 deadline for an agreement.

"We are working. We are working very hard. A lot of serious discussions. It was a good meeting," he told reporters after the two-hour session with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

It was the second day of talks between Kerry and Zarif as they try to narrow wide differences in negotiating positions over a deal intended to end a decade-long dispute over nuclear work which Tehran says is peaceful. The West fears it may be aimed at developing nuclear weapons capability.

A senior U.S. State Department official said Kerry, Ashton - who is coordinating discussions with Iran on behalf of six world powers, including the United States - and Zarif had a "lengthy and productive meeting", but that more work was required.

The powers want Tehran to significantly scale back its nuclear enrichment programme to make sure it cannot yield nuclear bombs. Iran wants sanctions that have severely damaged its oil-dependent economy lifted as soon as possible.

With the gaps over pivotal issues including Iran's enrichment capacity still large, some diplomats and experts have said a deal by July 20 is unlikely and that they will need to extend the negotiating period.

However, Ashton's spokesman Michael Mann told reporters that the sides were still trying to get a deal by the target date.

"We are determined to try and get an agreement by July 20. There are still significant gaps and we are trying to narrow those down ... we still have some time. There is a text and there are still brackets around the main issues."

(Reporting By John Irish, Lesley Wroughton and Fredrik Dahl, editing by Mark Heinrich)

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