U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, pictured in 2013, is expected to travel to Vienna, Austria for the latest round of Iranian nuclear negotiations. (UPI/Kevin Dietsch) | License Photo
WASHINGTON, Nov. 18 (UPI) -- As the deadline to reach a comprehensive Iranian nuclear agreement nears, a senior U.S. administration official commented Monday on the status of the talks.
Last week, P5+1 political directors met with Iranian officials in Oman ahead of the latest round of negotiations. Described as "tough, direct, and serious" discussions, the official acknowledged, "We have continued to make some progress in the course of these negotiations, but we still have gaps to close, and we do not yet know if we will be able to do so."
A U.S. delegation departed Monday for Vienna to join what may or may not be the final round of nuclear negotiations before the self-imposed Nov. 24 deadline.
On the possibility of extending the deadline, the official said that "extension is not and has not been a subject of negotiations at this point," adding that a comprehensive agreement is "difficult, but possible."
"We all understand what we're doing here. We all understand the responsibility of what we are doing here. This is difficult. If it weren't difficult, it would have been solved a long time ago."
The official declined to go into specifics concerning the negotiations. "I will give very little, because we are at a very, very difficult point in this negotiation" but added that "We all knew that tough decisions -- the toughest decisions -- would not be taken til the end, and that is likely to be the case, if they can be taken at all."
The P5+1 -- the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council (Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States) plus Germany -- have sought concrete assurances from Iran that its nuclear program will remain peaceful and not be used as a weapon. That focus continues, the official said.
"We have to make sure that Iran cannot obtain a nuclear weapon, that all the pathways to fissile material for a nuclear weapon are shut down, and that the international community has the assurances it needs over time that Iran's program is exclusively peaceful."
The official noted "the complexity of this negotiation is really quite something," and expressed gratitude for the breadth and depth of American expertise from "virtually every major department of this government" that has informed the U.S. position throughout the negotiations.
"I would say that all of the P5+1 colleagues have brought something to the table," the official observed, before conceding "what's most important is what Iran brings to the table."