World powers seek to ease nuclear deadlock with Iran (REUTERS) By Alexandra Hudson and Jonathon Burch ISTANBUL, TURKEY 04/13/12 5:57am EDT)
Reuters News Service
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(Reuters) - Iran and six world powers began rare talks on Saturday to
try to halt a downward diplomatic spiral over Tehran´s nuclear
program and ease fears of a new Middle East war.
The talks, in Istanbul, the first between Iran and the six powers in
15 months, are unlikely to yield any major breakthrough but Western
diplomats hope to see readiness from Tehran to start to discuss
issues of substance.
That, they say, would mark a big change in Iran´s attitude from the
last meeting when it refused even to talk about its nuclear program
and could be enough for scheduling a second round of talks next
month, possibly in Baghdad.
Such an outcome could, at least for the time being, dampen
speculation that Israel might launch military strikes on Iranian
atomic sites to prevent its enemy from obtaining nuclear arms.
Both sides say they are ready at the meeting to work towards
resolving the deepening dispute over the nuclear program which the
West suspects is geared towards achieving a nuclear arms capability,
but which Iran says has purely peaceful purposes.
"I hope what we will see today is the beginnings of a sustained
process," said European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton
who is also the main representative of the United States, France,
Russia, China, Germany and Britain at the talks.
"What we are here to do is to find ways in which we can build
confidence between us and ways in which we can demonstrate that Iran
is moving away from a nuclear weapons program," she said in a
Iran´s chief nuclear negotiator told Ashton at a dinner on Friday he
hoped the major powers would "win the Iranian nation´s trust in this
round of negotiations.
"Iran will enter negotiations with a constructive attitude and will
insist on its rights," Iranian state television quoted him as saying.
"For their own reasons, each side wants to give diplomacy a chance at
this point, to start a process rather than to force a quick fix,"
said analyst Michael Adler at the Woodrow Wilson International Center
Iran must show that it is willing to enter "serious engagement", one
senior diplomat said, suggesting Saturday´s discussions were unlikely
to go into detailed issues.
"My tip is to set your sights low," the diplomat said. "It is not
part of our game plan for tomorrow to lay out a long list of specific
demands and conditions. They know what we think about all these
Iran says it will propose "new initiatives" in Istanbul, but it is
unclear whether this means it is now prepared to discuss curbs to its
uranium enrichment program.
"Iran is sending signals they want a serious and constructive
meeting," another diplomat said.
The West accuses Iran of seeking to develop a nuclear weapons
capability. Israel - believed to be the only Middle East state with
an atomic arsenal - sees Iran´s atomic plans as a threat to its
existence. Iran has threatened to retaliate for any attack by closing
a major oil shipping route.
Iran, one of the world´s largest oil producers, says its nuclear
program is a peaceful attempt to generate electricity and medical
isotopes for cancer patients.
But its refusal to halt nuclear work which can have both civilian and
military uses has been punished with intensifying U.S. and EU
sanctions against its lifeblood oil exports.
"Given that oil revenue accounts for over half of government income,
the budget will be under significant strain this year as oil exports
fall as a result of sanctions and oil production is cut back by Iran
as its pool of buyers begins to shrink," said Dubai-based independent
analyst Mohammed Shakeel.
In a sign of what is at stake in the attempt to restart diplomacy,
the fate of a new package of sanctions on Iran proposed by U.S.
lawmakers may hinge on whether progress is made in Istanbul.
Western officials have made clear their immediate priority is to
convince Tehran to cease the higher-grade uranium enrichment it began
in 2010. It has since expanded that work, shortening the time it
would need for any weapons "break-out".
Iran has signaled some flexibility over halting its enrichment to a
fissile purity of 20 percent - compared with the 5 percent level
required for nuclear power plants - but also suggests it is not ready
to do so yet.
Iranian leaders would probably expect to be rewarded with an easing
of sanctions if they agree to scale back their sensitive nuclear
work, but Western officials say this is not an issue up for
negotiation in Istanbul.
"Stopping 20 percent enrichment would be seen as a gesture to start
negotiations, not to lift sanctions," one diplomat at the talks said.
In the end, experts and some diplomats say, both sides must
compromise for any long-term deal to resolve the dispute: Iran could
keep enriching uranium to low levels in return for accepting much
more intrusive U.N. nuclear inspections.
"From a non-proliferation point of view, zero enrichment is
beneficial, but not necessary to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran," Ali
Vaez of the International Crisis Group thinktank said.
(Additional reporting by Fredrik Dahl, Justyna Pawlak, Zahra
Hosseinian and Marcus George; Editing by Jon Hemming and Janet
Lawrence) (© Thomson Reuters 2012. 04/13/12)
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