Iran Nuclear Talks End With No Deal; New Meeting in June
Iran and six world powers ended two days of difficult talks on Iran’s disputed nuclear program on Thursday with no clear signs of progress, but they agreed to reconvene for more negotiations in Moscow next month.
Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s top foreign policy official and the lead negotiator for the six powers, told a news conference after the meeting here in Baghdad that “significant problems remain” in the talks with the Iranian side, but she declined to specify them. “What we have now is some common ground, and a meeting in place where we can take that further forward,” Ms. Ashton said. She then departed with her delegation in order to leave Baghdad before a sandstorm closed the airport.
The next round of talks is to be held on June 18 and June 19 in Russia, one of the six powers. The others are the United States, China, Britain, France, and Germany.
Addressing reporters after Ms. Ashton’s delegation had left, the lead Iranian negotiator, Saeed Jalili, described the climate of the talks as good but said they were “incomplete” and he expressed hope that further negotiations would produce results. He also said Iran had insisted to the six powers that it had the right to enrich nuclear fuel — a position that was not accepted and appeared to remain a basic source of disagreement.
A senior American official said the six powers had never expected to reach an agreement with Iran at the Baghdad talks, the second meeting between both sides since the talks were resumed in Turkey last month after a 15-month lapse. The American official described the Baghdad discussions as difficult and that the Iranians had pushed hard to have their right to nuclear fuel enrichment recognized.
Iran was also unhappy with proposals the six powers had made concerning its nuclear program, because they did not include an agreement to postpone punishing sanctions against Iran that are due to take effect in July, according to diplomats on both sides.
The Iranians had said that the new sanctions ran counter to the atmosphere of progress that both sides were trying to develop, in what the West hoped would be detailed negotiations to clear up questions about whether the Iranian program is peaceful as Iran insists or is really a cloak for the ability to make nuclear weapons.
The senior American official said the intensified sanctions, which include a European embargo on Iranian oil, would “increase the leverage on this negotiation as we move forward. Maximum pressure is not yet being felt by Iran.”
During the Baghdad talks the six powers exchanged detailed proposals with the Iranian side, which presented what Iranian news reports described as a five-point plan containing both nuclear and nonnuclear elements.
Whatever expectations there may have been for substantive progress at the Baghdad talks appeared to fade early Thursday as the second day of discussions began, when Iran’s state-financed Press TV satellite broadcaster quoted unidentified sources close to the Iranian negotiating team as saying the prospects for success in the negotiations were “vague and under question” if the powers rejected the Iranian plan.
Several accounts in Iran’s state-controlled media compared the positions taken by Tehran’s interlocutors in Baghdad to those of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, which considers Iran’s nuclear program an existential threat.
The most important part of the six-power proposal called for stopping enrichment of uranium to 20 percent purity, which is a short technical step away from highly enriched uranium that can be weaponized. Diplomats said the Iranians had been willing to discuss the 20 percent issue but had made no commitments.
Diplomats said the proposal presented to Iran was meant partly to buy more time for more comprehensive and detailed negotiations with Iran on the nature of its nuclear program. Their priority was to cap Iran’s growing stockpile of uranium enriched to 20 percent. Iran says the uranium is for fuel for medical reactors, but Western diplomats say the Iranians already have many times more than they need, furthering suspicions about Iran’s motivations despite its repeated assertions that the enrichment program is peaceful.
The six powers also want Iran to export its current stockpile of 20 percent uranium and, down the road, to dismantle the once-secret Fordo enrichment plant, buried deep inside a mountain near the holy city of Qum, that is producing it.
Removing the 20 percent uranium stockpile from Iranian control is an issue that preoccupies Israel and other American allies like Saudi Arabia. Israel has warned that it might attack Iran militarily if the Iranians appear to be nearing completion of a nuclear weapon or continue to produce 20 percent enriched uranium in protected sites like the Fordo mountain fortress that are difficult to bomb.
In return for early Iranian steps to freeze 20 percent, the six offered benefits like spare parts for civilian aircraft, much needed in Iran, and help with nuclear safety at civilian installations, and perhaps a pledge that Iran has the right to a peaceful nuclear program so long as it resolves doubts about its intentions through serious, detailed, technical negotiations with the six and through openness with the inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The six also offered a new version of a fuel-exchange program, to take Iran’s 20 percent enriched uranium and return it as processed fuel for medical reactors.