Iran, world powers fail to bridge nuclear impasse

Iran, world powers fail to bridge nuclear impasse

Iran, world powers fail to bridge nuclear impasse

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton (L) and chief Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili (R) meet before the start of high-stakes talks over Iran’s nuclear program. EPA photo

Iran and world powers yesterday locked horns in hours of tense talks in Moscow, seeking a diplomatic solution to the crisis over Tehran’s nuclear program with no breakthrough in sight.

At talks that were billed as a last chance to find hope for a negotiated solution to the decade-long standoff, the West was looking for signs that Iran would show willingness to scale down the intensity of its uranium enrichment activities.

But the Russian deputy foreign minister said the positions of Iran and world powers over Tehran’s nuclear drive are hard to reconcile. “The main stumbling block is the fact the positions of the sides are rather complicated and hard to reconcile,” Interfax quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as saying. “How to bring these positions together is possibly the main difficulty.”

Talks were difficult and included a tense exchange of views, a European Union spokesman said. “We had an intense and tough exchange of views,” Agence France-Presse quoted Michael Mann as saying, a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

“Setting up the framework [for negotiations] is the main problem,” a member of the Iranian delegation said. Chief Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili met with envoys from six world powers including the United States, as well as Ashton, for two days of talks.

But the Iranian diplomat said that based on the morning’s talks “it is possible” that the second day would not even be required, without elaborating. Jalili had gone into the talks in an uncompromising mood, telling Iranian state television, “These negotiations are a big test to see if the West is in favor of Iran’s progress or against it.”

The EU delegation spokesman told reporters that world powers were sticking by a previous demand for Iran to halt enriching uranium to 20 percent, a level approaching that needed to make an atomic bomb.

Ahmadinejad’s condition

“If this demand [enriching uranium] isn’t recognized, the negotiations are certainly headed for failure,” an unidentified Iranian official at the talks said, according to state news agency IRNA. Russia’s Kommersant daily said Iran would be offered a compromise plan under which it would scale down the degree to which uranium is enriched at its main enrichment facility in Natanz from 20 percent to 3.5 or 5 percent. The urgency for Iran is compounded by a July 1 EU deadline for Tehran to avert a full oil embargo and the June 28 rollout of tough U.S. sanctions against a host of countries that buy Iranian oil.

In a hint of a compromise, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Iran was ready to suspend its controversial enrichment of uranium to 20 percent if Europe guaranteed delivery of nuclear fuel for its reactors, according to his website.

The talks follow a bruising session in Baghdad in May that failed to make any noticeable progress beyond agreeing on a date for more talks, an outcome that may not be acceptable to the West if repeated in Moscow.

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