Iran nuclear talks are on, but both sides frustrated, say diplomats (CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR) By Scott Peterson ISTANBUL, TURKEY 06/11/12)
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Two diplomats close to the Iran nuclear talks – one Iranian and one
European – explain the concerns of their respective sides ahead of
June 18-19 talks in Moscow.
The wide gap that remains between Iran and world powers over Iran´s
nuclear program is being filled by a diplomatic blame game, a week
before talks are due to resume in Moscow.
Expectations that this third round of talks might be delayed were put
to rest tonight during an hour-long telephone conversation between
Iran´s top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili and EU foreign policy
chief Catherine Ashton.
The call came amid increasingly acrimonious exchanges that illustrate
the stark challenges that remain to a negotiated solution between
Iran and the P5+1 group (comprised of the US, Russia, China, England,
France and Germany) represented by Ms. Ashton.
The two "agreed on the need for Iran to engage on the [P5+1]
proposals, which address its concerns on the exclusively peaceful
nature of the Iranian nuclear program," said a statement from
"She also conveyed the [P5+1´s] readiness to respond to the issues
raised by the Iranians in Baghdad," said the statement. Ashton gave
an "update" to Mr. Jalili on the conclusions of her meeting today
with P5+1 officials to "discuss the way forward for the Moscow talks."
Officials from both sides have accused each other of not
being "serious" about engagement, of stalling for time, and being
unwilling to strike a deal that would calm Western and Israeli fears
about Iran ever trying to build a nuclear weapon, lift crippling
sanctions on Iran, and avoid possible military strikes by Israel or
A testy exchange of letters included one published late yesterday
from Jalili´s deputy, Ali Bagheri, to Ashton´s deputy, Helga Schmid.
The senior Iranian official asked why the P5+1 refused to meet
at "experts level" prior to the Moscow talks – the term usually used
to describe technical experts who are meant to discuss more detailed
aspects of the negotiations. The official warned that without such
preparation, "what guarantee will there be for the success of future
EU diplomat: ´Increasing negativity´
Diplomats from both sides claim that they have gone out of their way
to accommodate the other in the interest of successful talks. But
they also claim that they have "got nothing but some vague replies"
(says an Iranian diplomat close to negotiations) or come up
against "obfuscation" and "increasing negativity" (says a European
diplomat in Brussels familiar with the talks).
In the past week there have been two direct calls between Bagheri and
Schmid, notes the European diplomat. Since late May, five letters
have been exchanged and "we have offered for at least a week a direct
call between Ashton and Jalili, which they dragged their feet on."
Says the European diplomat: "Every effort has been aimed at ensuring
that we reach out ... that we offer calls at a high level, that we
communicate in every which way we can, [so] it is absurd to somehow
shift the blame for an outcome in Moscow on a supposed unwillingness
on our part [to engage]."
Iranian officials, in their turn, argue that it is they who are
The Iranians "want ... to show that they are the ones who are
interested in cooperating, and I believe highlighting the telephone
conversations and sending letter after letter is just proof that they
want to show the world that they are keen on talking and the P5+1 is
the one refraining," says the Iranian diplomat.
"When Bagheri wrote in his letter that if they are not getting ready
for the Moscow talks they should expect failure, [this] was paving
the way ... to say to the world that we did send them the message and
they ... ignored it," says the Iranian diplomat.
P5+1 talks in Europe today and tomorrow
The top US negotiator in the nuclear talks, Undersecretary of State
for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, was scheduled to join other P5+1
officials for strategy talks in Strasbourg, France, today and
The US State Department said the meeting was part of “serious
preparation” for Moscow, to enable “the diplomatic track to succeed.”
Besides the squabbling over preparations for Moscow is a more
fundamental issue for Iran: the substance of the P5+1 opening bid put
forward in Baghdad in late May, which Tehran says amounted
In that proposal, Iran was asked to give up uranium enrichment to 20
percent purity – a level it has been converting into fuel plates for
a research reactor, but which is technically not far from weapons-
grade of 90 percent.
Iran was also asked to close the deeply buried Fordow facility, where
the 20 percent enrichment work is currently under United Nations
nuclear watchdog safeguards, and to agree to more intrusive
´Iran has lowered the tone and increased the volume´
But another demand was that Iran suspend all enrichment, as required
by UN resolutions until it clears up questions of any weapons-related
While Iran has publicly stated a readiness to cap enrichment at 5
percent, it has also declared for years that it will not give up
its "inalienable right" – as specified in the Nuclear Non-
Proliferation Treaty (NPT) – to enrich uranium.
Iran´s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in a recent speech: "If
some want us to forgo this right, they should first give their
reasons, and second [disclose] what they will give the Iranian nation
While those issues are expected to be at the heart of any deal, Iran
has yet to specify in the talks what it will and will not accept,
says the European diplomat.
"What [the Iranians] haven´t done is [say], ´You know we can´t do
that, but what we would like to do is this. Can we as an initial step
agree that?´ says the European diplomat.
"That´s not what we´ve been seeing, and that´s why we´re
saying: ´Let´s meet and have a conversation about that,´" he
adds. "That´s what we call an engagement over substance; that is
exactly what the Iranians have not done. [Instead] they have
postured, they´ve argued, they´ve lowered the tone and increased the
The State Department said Iran had an “opportunity” in Moscow if it
came “prepared to take concrete steps in response to the proposals
presented in Baghdad.”
´[The P5+1] want Iran to give diamonds for peanuts´
Further complicating the picture for the Iranians is that the P5+1
proposal, while asking Iran to give up what it considers its most
important cards, does not simultaneously provide what it most
desires: lifting of crippling sanctions. A European oil embargo is
due to begin on July 1.
Hossein Mousavian, a former member of Iran´s nuclear negotiating team
from 2003-05 who is now at Princeton University, told the Tehran
Bureau website after the offer was made public last month: "They want
Iran to give diamonds in return for peanuts."
That view is widely shared among decisionmakers in Tehran.
"On several occasions they have said, at least the Americans did,
that Iran could have below 5 percent enrichment, but now they are
asking for something else that is not acceptable to Iran," says the
Iranian diplomat in Tehran familiar with the talks. "The next point
is that ... they are not ready to ease the unilateral sanctions that
are Iran´s concern."
If Iran were to accept the P5+1 proposal as is, says the Iranian
diplomat, "it would be a great win for them."
European and US officials have stated that their opening bid should
be seen only as that, not a deal-breaker. In Iran, there
is "confusion about what is an initial step and what is a fundamental
step," says the European diplomat.
"We have seen through these exchanges a signpost that tells us how
difficult this is going to be," he adds. "If anybody came out of
Istanbul [the first round] feeling optimistic, they were given a
boost of realism in Baghdad and another bucket of it afterwards." (©
The Christian Science Monitor. 06/11/12)
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