The White House on Wednesday denied reports that negotiations between Iran and Western nations had broken down after a dispute over Tehran’s nuclear research.
Reuters reported Wednesday afternoon that the negotiations between Iran and the P5+1’s negotiating team had "run into problems" after the sides could not come to an agreement on the issue of nuclear centrifuge research.
"This issue [centrifuges] was among the main factors in stopping the previous technical discussions on Dec. 19-21," a Western diplomat was quoted as telling Reuters.
Other Western diplomats also confirmed that the issue of Iran’s advanced centrifuge research was a "sticking point" in the talks.
The White House insisted that talks have not broken down, but only paused so that each side can consult with their governments.
"The P5+1 and Iran made progress in our discussions regarding the implementation of the Joint Plan of Action over the past several weeks," White House National Security Council (NSC) spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan told the Washington Free Beacon when asked about the Reuters report.
"The discussions broke for the holidays, and the teams took a few outstanding points back to capitals," Meehan said. "We expect to finalize the implementation plan soon."
U.S. negotiator Wendy Sherman will meet tomorrow with key European diplomats and Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi to specifically "discuss the implementation of the Joint Plan of Action," according to Meehan.
While the sides have not determined an official date for the interim agreement to begin, "we expect to finalize the implementation plan soon," Meehan said.
Iran insists that it should be permitted to continue working on advanced centrifuges that will help it more quickly enrich uranium, the key component in a nuclear weapon.
"We have to make sure our right to research and development is respected," a senior Iranian government official told Reuters in its initial report.
Iran is permitted to continue some of its nuclear research work under the interim agreement reached in November.
The agreement—which aims to halt some aspect of Iran’s nuclear program for a period of six months—will not go into effect until Iran and the West agree on several points.
"As part of the (Nov. 24) agreement, Iran is permitted to engage in R&D (research and development), but that is tempered by the fact that it is prohibited to install new centrifuges, except as required by wear and tear," one of the Western diplomats told Reuters.
Some Western officials do not want Iran to have the ability to continue this critical nuclear work.
As talks with Iran continue, senators on Capitol Hill are debating a new Iran sanctions bill that remains hotly opposed by the White House.
Fifty-one senators have already come out in favor of the new sanctions bill, according to Senate sources tracking the legislation.
Iranian officials involved in the talks continue to warn that Tehran will back out of the nuclear talks should new sanctions be approved by Congress.
"These moves will certainly not be helpful and we have announced in our meetings with the American side that such attempts will sour the atmosphere," Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for European and American Affairs Majid Takht Ravanchi was quoted as saying in the Iranian press.
"Our position is completely clear and the approval of any new sanctions would mean ending the current negotiations," Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Marziyeh Afkham was quoted as saying. "Any measure adopted in this respect will be against the trend of the negotiations and will push the negotiations into failure."