World powers and Iran made little progress on Monday at the first of two days of talks in Moscow on how to end Tehran’s nuclear program.

“We had an intense and tough exchange of views,” said Michael Mann, spokesman for European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton who leads the delegation on behalf of the six powers – the United States, China, Russia, France, Britain and Germany.

Iran said before the talks began that progress would be possible only if the powers acknowledged its right to enrich uranium.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on his website late on Sunday that Iran was ready to suspend its enrichment of uranium up to 20 percent if Europe would give Iran 20%-enriched uranium fuel for its reactors.

One Israeli official scoffed at the idea, saying that the world’s position needed to be that Iran must halt all its enrichment, and not only enrichment to 20%. “Allowing Iran to continue to enrich to 20% would be allowing them to continue marching toward a nuclear weapon,” the official said.

“This would allow them to stabilize, strengthen and expand their nuclear program, and would constitute a dangerous situation.”

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A series of UN Security Council resolutions since 2006 have demanded that Iran suspend all of its enrichment-related activities. Asking for less than that now, the Israeli official said, would be giving the Iranians a prize.

The world powers, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – all of which have nuclear weapons – plus Germany, said it was time for Tehran to do more to assure them it was not seeking the bomb.

“The main stumbling block is that the sides’ positions are rather difficult and tough to reconcile,” Sergei Ryabkov, Russia’s deputy foreign minister and chief nuclear negotiator, told reporters at the end of the first day of talks in a Moscow hotel.

An Iranian diplomat said: “Up to now the environment is not positive at all.”

One Western official said: “If Iran remains unwilling to take the opportunities these talks present, it will face continuing and intensified pressure and isolation.”

Experts said a breakthrough was unlikely, with the six powers wary of making concessions that would enable Tehran to draw out the talks and gain time to develop a nuclear weapons capability.

“So far, the Iranians are deceiving the international community and progressing toward a nuclear bomb,” one Israeli official said.

The official urged the world powers not to lessen their demands on Tehran: “This is not time to climb down and make concessions. The Iranian government is the one that needs to climb down and make the concessions.”

The Moscow talks follow two rounds of negotiations since diplomacy resumed in April after a 15-month hiatus during which the West cranked up sanctions pressure. It will be ratcheted up higher in the next two weeks, as the US starts to implement a series of tough sanctions on Iran’s oil clients, and the EU begins its embargo of Iranian oil.

As a priority, the West wants the Islamic Republic to halt enrichment of uranium to 20% purity, a level much higher than what is needed for power generation, seen by some experts as a dangerous step toward being able to make bomb material.

Iran is seeking an end to the increasingly tough economic sanctions that have in recent months directly targeted its ability to export oil, its economic lifeblood.

The six powers hope at least to win assurances that Tehran is willing to discuss concrete solutions. They want to see a substantive Iranian response to their previous offer of fuel supplies for Tehran’s research reactor and relief in sanctions on the sale of commercial aircraft parts to Iran.

At the last talks in Baghdad last month, they asked that Tehran in return stop producing higher-grade uranium, ship any stockpile out of the country and close down the Fordow underground enrichment facility.

But Iranian chief negotiator Saeed Jalili has indicated the incentives on offer are insufficient, although EU officials said last week that he had agreed to give serious consideration to the proposal.

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