Iran, world powers agree to further nuclear talks (LA TIMES) By Paul Richter ISTANBUL, Turkey 04/15/12)
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The dispute over Iran´s nuclear program won´t be over soon, but
representatives of six world powers say Iran´s willingness to
negotiate is a positive sign.
ISTANBUL, Turkey ó Iran and six world powers took a modest step
toward resolving their dispute over Tehran´s nuclear program,
agreeing to negotiate their differences and to meet again next month
The much-anticipated daylong discussion, however, appeared to leave
the two sides far from even an interim agreement on how to overcome
the dispute, which has raised fear of a spiraling war in the Middle
East. Yet Western officials said Iran´s agreement to even talk should
be counted as progress, as the Islamic Republic has repeatedly walked
away from attempts to force it to negotiate curbs on its nuclear
Catherine Ashton, the European Union´s foreign policy chief, called
the meeting "positive and useful," while Iran´s chief negotiator,
Saeed Jalili, praised the approach of the group of six world powers
and said the meeting had produced "a step forward."
One former Obama administration advisor on Iran said the agreement on
further talks could help reduce tension over the issue, which has
been rising for months as the West has tightened sanctions and Israel
has threatened a bombardment.
"This proved an opportunity for everyone to take a step back from the
menacing atmosphere that was around,´´ said Ray Takeyh, who is now
with the Council on Foreign Relations. "That´s true about Iran, the
U.S. and the party that was not at the talks: Israel."
In a meeting in Istanbul 15 months ago, Jalili refused to discuss
Iran´s nuclear program, throwing the group´s efforts into disarray.
The group, made up of the United States, France, Britain, Germany,
China and Russia, is concerned that Iran´s nuclear program may be
aimed at developing bomb-making know-how, a charge Tehran denies.
The group´s modest goals for the meeting reflect its view that it
needed to approach the Iranian regime cautiously on the issue and
that a demand for quick action could be counterproductive. Yet the
U.S. and its allies could come under attack from critics who believe
that swift action is needed to halt Iran´s production of enriched
uranium, which can be used as bomb fuel if enriched to high levels.
President Obama has been trying to get the Iranians to the
negotiating table while fending off the Israeli threats to bomb Iran
to prevent it from gaining a capability that Israel sees as an
Iran, now under intense economic pressure from Western sanctions, had
floated the idea before Saturday´s meeting of halting its production
of 20%-enriched uranium, which is closer to a state that makes it
suitable for a bomb. That proposal looked to some analysts like a
potential key factor in working out a compromise on the issue.
But diplomats said that although ideas were raised at the meeting,
none were discussed in any depth. The focus, rather, was on getting
the Iranians to express enough interest in entering negotiations so
that the May 23 meeting in Baghdad could be scheduled.
Jalili said nothing at a news conference about any willingness to
halt production of enriched uranium. Instead, he emphasized that his
country would insist on its right to a nuclear program, as guaranteed
under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
The two sides said they would look to the treaty as a basis for their
negotiations. The Iranians like it because it guarantees access to
civil nuclear power to all countries; the West likes it because it
requires members to submit to international monitoring and bars
activities that could lead to a bomb-making capability.
Though Jalili praised the group´s approach, he declined to engage
directly with U.S. officials at the meeting, which was held in
Istanbul´s municipal conference center. U.S. officials had not asked
Jalili directly for a meeting but had let it be known that they were
open to such an encounter.
A senior administration official linked the Iranians´ new desire for
talks to the pressure of sanctions. But skeptics have warned that the
Iranians simply want to run out the clock while they continue to move
close to a bomb-making capability.
The meeting´s limited accomplishment will put more pressure on the
Obama administration to wrest some tangible concessions from the
But the senior administration official, who declined to be identified
because of the sensitivity of the discussions, cautioned against
raising "anybody´s expectations that large steps will be taken" at
the May meeting. The official acknowledged that although the Iranians
were signing on to another session, "the environment has not been
fully tested yet."
The official said the Iranians could not waste time because of their
need to lift the Western sanctions, which have cut Iranian oil sales,
raised import prices and slashed the value of its currency by about
The official also said the Western governments were not about to
suspend tough new sanctions that are to take effect at the end of
June unless the Iranians made major concessions.
The group met with Jalili and three colleagues first in a joint
gathering in which representatives of each country gave the Iranians
their views about resolving the nuclear program. Members of the six-
nation group have different views on the issue, and China and Russia
have strongly resisted the West´s efforts to force Iran´s hand with
But Western diplomats said that all six were united in their approach
Saturday. Special correspondent Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran contributed
to this report. (Copyright © 2012 Los Angeles Times 04/15/12)
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