U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Monday there was "finite" time for talks between Iran and world powers on its disputed nuclear program to bear fruit, but gave no hint how long Washington may be willing to negotiate.
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Israel, Iran's arch-enemy and convinced Tehran is secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons, has grown impatient with the protracted talks and has threatened pre-emptive war against Tehran if it deems diplomacy ultimately futile.
Kerry's sentiment was largely echoed by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, who said that the negotiations cannot be endless like the debates of philosophers over how many angels can fit on the head of a pin.
"There is a finite amount of time," Kerry, in the Saudi capital Riyadh on his first overseas trip as the top U.S. diplomat, said of the talks between a group of six world powers and Tehran, Saudi Arabia's main regional adversary.
Kerry was speaking at a news conference with Prince Saud al-Faisal, who suggested Iran was not showing enough seriousness about the discussions, which he said "cannot go on forever".
Iran was positive last week after talks with the powers in Kazakhstan about its nuclear work ended with an agreement to meet again. But Western officials said it had yet to do anything concrete to allay their concerns about its nuclear aspirations.
The United States, China, France, Russia, Britain and Germany offered modest relief from economic sanctions in return for Iran reining in its most sensitive nuclear activity but made clear that no breakthrough was in the offing quickly.
"We can't be like the philosophers who keep talking about how many angels a pinhead can hold," Prince Saud al-Faisal said.
"They (the Iranians) have not proved to anybody the urgency in their negotiation," he said. "They reach common understanding only on issues that require further negotiation. And so this is what (has) worried us."
The United States and many of its allies suspect Iran may be using its civil nuclear program as a cover to develop atomic weapons, a possibility that Israel, which is regarded as the Middle East's only nuclear power, sees as a mortal threat.
The possibility also deeply disturbs many Arab countries in the Gulf who, some analysts say, could choose to pursue their own nuclear programs if Iran were to acquire an atomic bomb, leading to a destabilizing arms race.
In Vienna on Monday, the UN nuclear watchdog raised pressure on Iran to finally address suspicions that it has sought to design an atomic bomb, calling for swift inspector access to a military base where relevant explosives tests are believed to have been carried out.
During his visit to Riyah, Kerry will meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for unplanned talks. The lunch meeting, which was added to Kerry's schedule at the last-minute on Monday morning, will focus on efforts to resume the diplomatic process between Israel and the Palestinians.