UK's Hague stresses need for momentum on Iran

LONDON (AP) — Britain's foreign secretary on Monday said world powers presented a united front to Iran at weekend talks that failed to reach an accord on curbing Tehran's nuclear activities, echoing the U.S. Secretary of State in rejecting reports that France scuttled a deal.

Foreign Secretary William Hague said it would be wrong to suggest that any one Western country had vetoed an agreement, telling U.K. lawmakers there was a strong foundation for the next round of talks and stressing the need to "build momentum."

He acknowledged "some gaps" remained between parties, but said "most of those gaps are now narrow" and others were bridged altogether. "We are not losing time in pursuing these negotiations," Hague added. The aim now is to produce an interim, first-step agreement that will create the chance of a "comprehensive settlement" with the possibility of limited sanctions relief for Iran, he said.

"Given the extensive nature of Iran's program and the history of its concealment, the detailed terms of any agreement matter greatly," he said. Noting a changed environment in dealings with Iran, Hague told lawmakers that a newly appointed British charge d'affaires will travel to Iran later this month.

The appointment of Ajay Sharma — a veteran diplomat and previous deputy head of mission to Tehran — to the non-resident posting is the first step toward Britain reopening its embassy in Tehran amid improving relations between the two nations.

Britain closed its Tehran embassy and withdrew its diplomats in late 2011 as tensions over a possible attack on Iran's nuclear facilities ran high. Iran also closed its embassy in London. Relations have remained tense since then.

Sharma — who previously served as the head of the Foreign Office Iran department — said in a statement he was looking forward to renewing direct contact between the U.K. and Iranian governments. Iran made a similar announcement. The official IRNA news agency quoted Iran's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Marzieh Afkham, as saying that Mohammad Hasan Habibzadeh had been appointed Tehran's non-resident charge d'affaires to London.

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