Tense Iran Nuclear Talks Resume in Moscow
MOSCOW — Talks between Iran and six world powers went into a second day on Tuesday morning, as negotiators sought a compromise that would head off the danger of military confrontation over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.
The outcome of Monday’s talks made it clear that the room for agreement is vanishingly small.
Only one round of discussions is scheduled for Tuesday, and Iran has concentrated its efforts on a weighty concession it seeks from the world powers: an acknowledgment that it has the right under international treaties to enrich uranium. In exchange, Iran has signaled it may be willing to stop enriching uranium to 20 percent purity, which is considered a technical step short of bomb grade.
The head of the influential National Security and Foreign Policy Committee of Iran’s parliament, Alaeddin Boroujerdi, told the semiofficial Mehr news agency on Tuesday that recognition of the right to enrich is “a red line” for Tehran and the country will not “forego” its legal right.
An Iranian diplomat attached to the delegation said on Tuesday that the talks’ outcome depended on how the world powers respond to Tehran’s demands.
Iran is also hoping for a rollback of the tough sanctions by the European Union and the United States scheduled to take effect in the coming weeks and which will further isolate Tehran from world oil and banking markets.
Iran received no such assurances on Monday from the six world powers, which consist of the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain — the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council — as well as Germany.
But on Tuesday a senior Russian official was quoted as saying the negotiations with Iran would not collapse.
“I don’t think anything will break down. We will have a reasonable outcome,” Sergei Ryabkov, a deputy foreign minister who leads the Russian delegation at the discussions, told Reuters after meeting representatives of the world powers at a Moscow hotel.
On Monday, a spokesman for Catherine Ashton, who is the European Union’s top foreign policy official and the lead negotiator with Iran for the so-called P5-plus-1 countries, described the first day’s talks as “intense and tough.”
In an afternoon session, Iranian negotiators picked apart a package of enticements that the six world powers first offered last month in Baghdad, which includes parts for old American civilian aircraft and fuel for an Iranian nuclear reactor, with the promise of more sanctions relief in return for specific Iranian actions to come into compliance over time.
“They responded to our package of proposals from Baghdad, but in doing so, brought up lots of questions and well-known positions, including past grievances,” said Ms. Ashton’s spokesman, Michael Mann. Analysts said the six powers might be willing to relax one of the sanctions that is threatening Iran: a provision that bans insurers based in Europe from covering ships that carry Iranian oil anywhere in the world.
The measure would significantly reduce Iran’s shipments to Asia, which make up most of the 2.2 million barrels it still exports daily. It met with resistance last month from Britain, a center of the marine insurance industry.
Cliff Kupchan, an Iran analyst at Eurasia Group, a consulting firm, said the ban could be carried out on schedule and then eased month by month if Iran were seen to be complying with the P5-plus-1’s central demands: ceasing enrichment of uranium to 20 percent and exporting its stockpile of the material.
“I can’t think of anything else that they could give, or that has been discussed among people involved,” Mr. Kupchan said.
Mr. Mann, Ms. Ashton’s spokesman, said the six powers were not offering to delay or waive sanctions until Iran had proved its willingness to comply with international agreements.
“Sanctions policy by definition is always under review, but can only be eased in response to real changes on the ground, so there is no question that our sanctions will come into force on the first of July,” he said.
The Moscow talks appeared rocky starting early in the day, when an Iranian diplomat described the atmosphere as “not positive” and said the discussions might even conclude on Monday, a day earlier than expected. Diplomats on all sides were unusually tight-lipped as they went in and out of negotiating sessions, heightening the sense of tension.
But the Iranian assessment brightened somewhat by evening: Ali Baqeri, deputy chief of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, said the discussion had been “very serious and constructive” when Iran had the opportunity to detail its complaints.
Much seemed to hang on a meeting on Monday night between the head of the Iranian delegation, Saeed Jalili, and Nikolai Patrushev, the secretary of Russia’s National Security Council and a former head of the Federal Security Service.
A breakdown in the talks would increase the risk of a new war in the Middle East, after months of tension over whether Israel, which considers Iran a threat to its existence, will carry out a military strike against Iran’s nuclear program. Iran is in violation of Security Council resolutions demanding that it suspend enrichment, and it has failed to ease concerns that its nuclear program is aimed at building a bomb, an accusation Iran denies.
“We all have to remember what we are doing here,” said a Western official shortly before the talks began, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the talks. “The international community’s concern is to stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. That is what it is fundamentally about.”
Iranian news media portrayed the talks in Moscow in an unflattering light, with the Fars News Agency reporting that the proceedings demonstrated that Western powers were not interested in reaching a comprehensive solution. Without directly referring to the negotiations, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, released a speech castigating Iran’s enemies, saying their “misplaced arrogance and grandiosity will lead to nowhere.”
Iran is negotiating under duress because of the intensifying sanctions, which Ayatollah Khamenei has characterized as “economic jihad.” The value of Iran’s currency, the rial, has dropped by 50 percent over the past 10 months, and inflation of food products exceeds 40 percent, said Mr. Kupchan, the analyst. The West, convinced that sanctions have induced Tehran to negotiate, is threatening to squeeze Iran’s economy further.
Russian experts have played down chances for a breakthrough, saying domestic politics in Iran and the United States make it difficult for either to compromise.
“We must understand that for President Barack Obama, neither a final positive or negative solution is possible because he will face criticism for either one,” said Vladimir Sazhin, a top Iran expert with the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences. “With Iran, the situation coincides completely with the situation in the United States. Iran doesn’t need one decision or the other.”