In Istanbul, nuclear talks with Iran yield no progress

Teheran's chief negotiator rejects Ashton's claim that the Islamic Republic's seeking of unrealistic preconditions derailed Istanbul talks.

Jalili 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Jalili 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
WASHINGTON – Western negotiators expressed deep disappointment on Saturday after talks with Iran ended without yielding progress or even paving the way for another round of negotiations.
“We had hoped to embark on a discussion of practical ways forward, and have made every effort to make that happen,” EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said in a statement after the conclusion of two days of discussions in Istanbul over international efforts to halt Iran’s nuclear program. “I am disappointed to say that this has not been possible.”
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Ashton noted that the so-called P5+1 of negotiating countries – England, France, Germany, the United States, Russia and China – had put offers of confidence- building steps on the table that they hoped Iran would seize. These included an updated deal over a nuclear fuel exchange program agreed between the sides in 2009 but never implemented, and a better means of monitoring Iran’s nuclear activities.
“We had hoped to have a detailed and constructive discussion of those ideas. But it became clear that the Iranian side was not ready for this, unless we agreed to preconditions relating to enrichment and sanctions,” she said. “Both these pre-conditions are not a way to proceed.”
Iran, however, charged its international interlocutors with setting the preconditions.
Iranian chief negotiator Saeed Jalili said his negotiating team had gone “far and beyond what was expected of us” to reach agreement and accused the other side of pushing not “dialogue, but dictation.”
He also told the semiofficial news agency Press TV, “We are still prepared for further negotiations with the P5+1, based on common issues.
[We are] prepared for comprehensive talks.”
Ashton concluded her statement by indicating that the group of world powers continued to be open to dialogue with Teheran and to pursing a diplomatic solution.
“The door remains open, the choice remains in Iran’s hands,” she said, adding that “we are ready to start talking without preconditions the moment Iran is ready.”
But Ashton indicated that with no immediate progress, the international group of negotiators had no intention of relaxing sanctions in the short term, despite Iranian appeals to do so as a way of easing the path to negotiations.
“As far as the removal of sanctions is concerned, it remains our united position that this would accompany the re-establishment of confidence in the Iranian nuclear program rather than be a precondition for discussing it,” she said, noting that the sanctions imposed by the UN, for starters, have requirements for sanctions to be lifted that have not been met.
During the talks, a senior US administration official pointed to efforts by the Iranians to split the six during “long and difficult” talks to extract concessions, but delegates from the world powers remained unified.
A diplomat from one of the six world powers at the talks said no new UN sanctions had been planned in response to Iran’s defiance. Instead, he said, there would be stricter enforcement of existing penalties. Both he and the US official asked for anonymity because their information was confidential.
The two-day meetings in Istanbul were themselves a follow- up to a round of talks between Iran and the P5+1 held in Geneva in December, where the most concrete sign of progress was the agreement to another set of negotiations.
This time, no such plans were forthcoming, suggesting a deepening of the impasse between the two sides.
Ahead of the talks, a bipartisan group of eight US senators expressed concern that the Obama administration would accede to Iran’s major demand that it maintain a domestic uranium enrichment capability as part of a compromise.
“As negotiations with Iran continue, we hope that the US will make clear that the current Iranian regime does not have a ‘right’ to uranium enrichment or reprocessing, and that it will not be allowed to possess enrichment or reprocessing capabilities on its territory under any conditions,” the letter states.
The US and the five other world powers have frequently referred to Iran’s right to peaceful nuclear energy, but have so far distinguished between that capacity and the ability to enrich uranium domestically.
Sanctions expert Mark Dubowitz, executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said the senators were writing out of concern that as talks with Iran continue, the US needs to clarify for itself an endgame that would be acceptable – and that these lawmakers want to make sure domestic enrichment for Iran doesn’t suddenly become palatable to the US in its desire to make a deal.
“Everybody supports the administration’s focus on sanctions” at this point, Dubowitz said, noting that the concerns are down the road: “What does a good deal look like? What’s the US willing to give in to the Iranians?” He explained, “I think there’s some deep concern that since the Iranians are insisting on this... to find some kind of facesaving mechanism to get a deal that this will be on the table, that the Iranians will insist on the right of domestic enrichment and the US will fashion a deal that leaves them with the right.”
AP contributed to this report.
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