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Expectations over the Iran nuclear talks fade further

VIENNA — Decisions by the foreign ministers of Russia and China to skip talks on Iran’s nuclear program this weekend are further denting expectations that the stalled negotiations will produce a deal by July 20.

The United States — which is sending Secretary of State John Kerry to join three other ministers — is putting on a good face. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf says the six powers talking with Iran remain ‘‘united in the negotiating room, as we always have.’’

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But the absence of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is noteworthy, in light of suggestions by France that Moscow is deviating from joint negotiating stances with Iran.

It may also reflect recognition that the two sides are too far apart, and the talks will have to be extended. The most important disputes over how deeply Iran must cut its nuclear program to gain sanctions relief are between Washington and Tehran, so Kerry’s presence is important.

He will be able to talk directly to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who is already at the Vienna talks.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, and German Foreign Minister Walter Steinmeier are also attending. But the absence of Lavrov and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi could be detrimental — it took foreign ministers or their deputies of all six nations to negotiate a preliminary deal with Tehran in November.

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi spoke Saturday of ‘‘huge and deep’’ differences. But he told Iranian TV that ‘‘if no breakthrough is achieved, it doesn’t mean that [the] talks have failed.’’

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