Iran talks stumble at another last-minute hurdle
American and Iranian negotiators struggled to clear the final obstacles to a historic agreement aimed at eliminating the threat of a nuclear-armed Tehran.
Weary diplomats expected to drift past their fourth missed deadline in less than two weeks late last night.
Among the vexing questions remaining was whether Iran be allowed to begin buying and selling conventional weapons again.
As a midnight target for a deal approached, diplomats said the nuts and bolts of the written nuclear accord had been settled days ago.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani briefly raised expectations of an imminent breakthrough by proclaiming on Twitter: "Iran Deal is the victory of diplomacy & mutual respect over the outdated paradigm of exclusion & coercion. And this is a good beginning."
But only minutes later, President Rouhani's tweet was deleted. He then retransmitted it, adding the word "If" in front of "Iran Deal" to reflect that negotiators weren't there yet - just the latest reversal on a day of seesaw changes that started with high hopes for an agreement.
The proposed pact would impose long-term and verifiable limits on Iran's nuclear programme and provide the Islamic Republic tens of billions of dollars in relief from international sanctions.
At the White House, press secretary Josh Earnest said the talks were "making genuine progress" and the American negotiating team under Secretary of State John Kerry would remain in Vienna as long as the negotiations advanced.
If a deal wasn't reached this week, he said, the 20-month-old provisional constraints on Iran's enrichment of possible bomb-making material and other nuclear activity would remain in force as the diplomacy continued.
On Sunday, diplomats had spoken of reaching a complete agreement within hours but yesterday any deal was still at least another day away.