WORLD NEWS TOMORROW – BAGHDAD: A diplomatic effort to persuade Iran to curtail its nuclear program was salvaged on Thursday by an agreement to hold further talks next month in Moscow, concluding two days of negotiations that exposed the difficulty of bridging the chasm between Tehran’s ambitions and the West’s demands.
Addressing reporters at the conclusion of the marathon talks, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton acknowledged that “significant differences” remain over how to address world concerns over Iran’s nuclear activities. However, she said there was “some common ground” and took heart that Iran had agreed to further talks.
“What we have now is some common ground and a meeting in place where we can take this forward,” she said.
The talks in Baghdad — between Iran on the one hand and the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany on the other — had been accompanied by high hopes that the current climate was conducive to progress on a deal that would help ease a decade of tensions over Iran’s nuclear activities and lift the threat of war hanging over the Middle East.
But the negotiations snagged early when Iran realized that a package of proposals put forward by the six world powers contained no relief from crippling economic sanctions, nor any acknowledgment of the right it claims to enrich uranium.
Iranian chief negotiator Saeed Jalili called the talks “thorough but unfinished.” He said Iran was not prepared to make any concessions unless the six nations accept “the undeniable right of the Iranian nation … to enrich uranium.” U.S. officials said that is not a concession they are prepared to grant.
Jalili also made it clear that Iran would not countenance a deal that did not alleviate the sanctions that have been taking an increasingly devastating toll on Iran’s economy.
“We believe the pathway to talks can be successful only if destructive pathways working in parallel with the pathways are stopped,” Jalili said. “This strategy of pressure is over. It is outmoded.”
Iran did concede, however, that it is open to negotiations about the level to which it will continue to enrich uranium. Iran currently has the capacity to enrich uranium up to 20 percent, which puts it within technical reach of the 90 percent level required for the fissile material used in nuclear weapons.
If world powers acknowledged Iran’s claimed right, “this enrichment … could be an issue of cooperation and talks,” Jalili said.
Ashton said the six world powers had put forward a number of proposals concerning “what could be done around the 20 percent” enrichment level, suggesting that the issue could be addressed further at the Moscow talks, scheduled for June 18-19.
In Washington, Obama administration officials acknowledged that the talks had not produced anything close to the breakthrough some had hoped for. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the negotiations had been “serious” and “substantive” but that significant gaps remained.
“We think that the choice is now Iran’s to work to close the gaps,” Clinton told reporters at the State Department. “We anticipate there will be ongoing work between now and the next meeting in Moscow, but it’s very clear that there’s a lot of work still to do.”