WASHINGTON - US President Barack Obama on Thursday called on the “entire” government in Tehran to seize on nuclear talks with world powers to end Iran’s economic isolation.

Obama made what appeared to be a direct effort to build political pressure among Iranians in favor of the nuclear diplomacy led by the government of President Hassan Rouhani in an annual video message to Iranians, marking the Nowruz, new year celebrations. Obama noted in his message that Iranians had elected Rouhani last year to strengthen the economy, improve the lives of his people and engage constructively with the world.

“The economic hardship that so many Iranians have endured in recent years - because of the choices of Iranian leaders - has deprived your country and the world of the extraordinary skills and contributions you have to offer,” Obama said.

“You deserve better,” Obama said, making a highly political case to the Iranian people on the importance of reaching a final nuclear deal, which could loosen the damaging grip of economic sanctions on Iran’s economy.  “If Iran meets its international obligations, we know where the path of dialogue and greater trust and cooperation can lead,” Obama said, a day after the latest round of talks between P5+1 powers and Tehran wrapped up.

But Obama warned he was under “no illusions” and knew the work to cement an interim deal last year, in which Iran froze aspects of its nuclear program in return for limited relief from sanctions, would be difficult.  Obama also sought to build political pressure on hardliners in the Iranian government noting that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had said Iran was not developing nuclear weapons.

“There is a chance to reach an agreement if Iran takes meaningful and verifiable steps to assure the world that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only,” Obama said.

“Real diplomatic progress this year can help open up new possibilities and prosperity for the Iranian people for years to come,” Obama said.

Meanwhile, positions between Iran and world powers diverge widely in some areas but Iranian negotiators seem “very committed” to reach an agreement on the country’s disputed nuclear programme, a senior EU official said in an email seen by Reuters on Thursday.

Russia, one of the six major powers seeking to persuade Iran to scale back its contested atomic activities to deny it any nuclear bomb breakout capability, separately said the two sides were “far apart” on the issue of uranium enrichment.

The remarks underlined the uphill task confronting negotiators, who aim to hammer out a final settlement of the decade-old dispute over the nature and scope of Iran’s nuclear activity in the next four months.

The brief email from European Union official Helga Schmid to senior officials of EU member states was written after a meeting between Iran and the United States, France, Germany, China, Russia and Britain in Vienna on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Schmid is the deputy of EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who is coordinating talks with Iran on behalf of the six nations. Tehran says its nuclear programme is peaceful but the West fears it may be aimed at developing the capability to make atomic bombs and wants it curtailed.

In this week’s talks, Iran and the powers locked horns over the future of a planned Iranian nuclear reactor with the potential to produce plutonium for bombs, and the United States warned that “hard work” would be needed to overcome differences when the sides reconvene on April 7.

This line was echoed in Schmid’s email. “Since we are at an early stage of the final and comprehensive negotiations, we still have a lot of work ahead of us. On some areas, positions differ widely,” it said.

“However, the impression is that the Iranian negotiators remain very committed to reach a comprehensive solution within the agreed 6-month period,” Schmid added.

She was referring to a late July deadline for a long-term deal agreed in an interim accord struck in November.

The meeting in Vienna was the second in a series that the six nations hope will produce a verifiable settlement, ensuring Iran’s nuclear programme is oriented to peaceful purposes only, and lay to rest the risk of a new Middle East war.

The two sides sought to spell out their positions on two of the thorniest issues: the level of uranium enrichment conducted in Iran, and its Arak heavy-water reactor. Iran denies Western suspicions that it could be a source of plutonium.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif characterised the latest round of negotiations as “very successful” in terms of clarifying the issues involved, the Iranian official news agency IRNA reported.