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Iranian Nuclear Talks Continue Past Deadline

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Negotiators in Switzerland remain divided over what to do about Iran's nuclear program. They say they will not reach a political accord by a self-imposed midnight deadline. They will keep talking, but the tone of comments is growing more downbeat. NPR's Peter Kenyon begins our coverage.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Days of relatively upbeat assessments gave way to hard-nosed bargaining today and talk of progress evaporated as it became clear that Tuesday would end without an announcement of success. The goal for this session is agreement on the broad outline of a deal to be filled in by July that would ensure Iran can't build a nuclear bomb. In return, Iran would get relief from economic sanctions. Acting State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said enough progress has been made in recent days to justify staying until Wednesday, but added there are several difficult issues remaining, which sounded to some like a gloomier assessment than the one or two sticking points referred to earlier in the talks. Iranian negotiator Hamid Baidinejad told reporters outside the hotel where talks are taking place that although talks were going to continue past midnight, the Iranians, who have been less concerned with this deadline than the Americans, would still consider it the same round of negotiations.

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HAMID BAIDINEJAD: For us, the whole day can end in the next morning, so we are sparing no effort to find the best solutions which are mutually agreeable.

KENYON: To add to the pressurized atmosphere, the White House comments are now including references to walking away from the table before the end of June deadline for a final agreement. Spokesman Josh Earnest says it doesn't make sense to keep talking just for the sake of talking.

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JOSH EARNEST: If we're not able to reach a political agreement then we're not going to wait all the way until June 3 - or June 30 to walk away.

KENYON: Much of this can be put down to 11th-hour bargaining, and there's little doubt that both sides still want to reach an agreement. Iran's economic needs and the West's desire to avoid another conflict in the Middle East remain as strong as ever. But officials say it's also true that neither side can afford to settle for a bad deal, which, for Iran, means immediate sanctions relief and for Washington means very tough limits on Iran's nuclear activity for as long a time as possible. Some here are raising anew a question asked early on in these talks - is there such a thing as a nuclear deal that is both viable and acceptable to both sides? Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Lausanne, Switzerland. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.