No decision yet on more Iran nuclear talks

McClatchy NewspapersJuly 24, 2012 

— Senior negotiators for Iran and the major world powers held a daylong review of the state of negotiations on Iran’s nuclear enrichment program Tuesday but gave no hint whether and when full-scale talks will resume.

All sides agree that diplomacy is in a critical phase following Israel’s repeated threats to go to war to stop Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. Yet, the pace in the talks that began here April 14 has slowed significantly, and European Union officials now say talks are unlikely to resume until September.

Helga Schmid of Germany and Ali Baqeri of Iran, the deputies to the two chief negotiators, met at an undisclosed location in Istanbul to discuss the outcome of a technical experts meeting here on July 3. This time, unlike three weeks ago, representatives of six major powers – the United States, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia – did not take part.

Schmid and Baqeri will report to their respective bosses, Catherine Ashton, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs, and Saeed Jalili, head of Iran’s Supreme Security Council, and they will then hold a phone conference to decide when, where and whether to meet in formal talks, EU spokesman Michael Mann said.

Western officials put the blame on Iran for delivering a tough proposal June 18 in Moscow. There, Tehran said it would formalize its opposition to producing nuclear weapons, but only if the international community recognized its right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. It did not offer a permanent halt in the enrichment of nuclear fuel from 3.5 percent to 20 percent, a level that with further enrichment, to 95 percent, could be used to build nuclear bombs.

“Iran is not engaging in any real way with the core of our proposal,” Mann told McClatchy on Tuesday. He said the delay in talks was due to the “glacial” progress in the Moscow talks.

The Western proposal, which Ashton gave to Jalili in Baghdad on May 24, called for halting enrichment of nuclear fuel to the 20 percent level, shipping abroad any fuel for future reprocessing to that level, and halting enrichment activities at Fordow, near Qom, a facility that is buried deep under a mountain and likely would withstand an Israeli attack.

As inducements, the six major powers offered to supply Iran with medical isotopes to treat cancer patients, provide spare parts for commercial airliners and, at a later point, begin to lift economic sanctions – relief from which is Iran’s top goal in the negotiations.

In its response delivered in Moscow, Iran belittled these gestures as “indicative of the unconstructive attitude of the major powers.” It said providing treatment for sick patients, providing spare parts and repairing commercial airliners were “fundamental elements of human rights,” according to an account of the proposal published by the Iranian Fars news agency earlier this month.

As for Fordow, Iran said the facility was strengthened against attack because of the continuing threats against Iran, and it was being used for many purposes other than enrichment of uranium.

Iran also expressed doubt that international and unilateral sanctions would be lifted as a result of the negotiations because of the U.S. view of Iran’s enrichment program.

“The (Iranian) proposal is unrealistic. It is an opening move,” said Trita Parsi, an Iranian-American scholar whose recent book, “A Single Roll of the Dice,” faulted the Obama administration for making only one serious effort to negotiate a resolution of the nuclear dispute with Iran.

“Iran was doing a legalistic critique,” he told McClatchy Tuesday.

But Parsi said the slowdown in the negotiating process also could make it a lot more difficult to reach an agreement later this year.

Many analysts say the real reason for the slowdown is the U.S. presidential election and the reluctance by President Barack Obama to reach an accord which his opponent, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, would pounce on as proof that Obama is not sufficiently supportive of Israel.

Congress is now considering still more sanctions against Iran, and with each new round, Iran has also raised new threats, most recently, the closing of the Strait of Hormuz, through which a large portion of the world’s oil tankers transit.

“Escalation has tended to beget more escalation,” Parsi said.

Email: rgutman@mcclatchydc.com

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