By ALI AKBAR DAREINI, Associated Press – 3 hours ago BAGHDAD (AP) Tough negotiations between Iran and world powersover Tehran's nuclear program ended Thursday with a plan to meetnext month for another round of talks but agreement on little else. The open channels between Iran and the six-nation bloc the fivepermanent Security Council members plus Germany are seen as themost hopeful chances of outreach between Washington and Tehran inyears. They also could push back threats of military action thathave shaken oil markets and brought worries of triggering a widerMiddle East conflict. European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said bothsides agreed to continue the discussions on June 18-19 in Moscow inhopes of a breakthrough on international concerns about the IslamicRepublic's ability to build atomic weapons. The announcement capped two days of negotiations in Baghdad, whereat times it appeared Tehran would withdraw from the talks infrustration over the West's refusal so far to scale back tougheconomic sanctions. |
"It is clear that we both want to make progress, and that there issome common ground," Ashton, who is formally leading the talks,told reporters at the end of the talks. "However, significantdifferences remain. Nonetheless, we do agree on the need forfurther discussion to expand that common ground." Israeli leaders have been critical of the talks, claiming it allowsIran to buy time and drive a wedge between Washington andJerusalem. On Wednesday, Israel's Defense Minister Ehud Barak saideven possible moves by Iran to open its nuclear facilities togreater U.N.
inspection doesn't rule out a possible Israelimilitary strike. Iran went into the Baghdad talks seeking guarantees the West willscale back on its sanctions, which have targeted Iran's criticaloil exports and have effectively blackballed the country frominternational banking networks. Instead, Tehran's negotiators on Thursday rejected proposals by theworld powers to curb its nuclear program without getting much inreturn, calling them unbalanced. Saeed Jalili, Iran's top nuclearnegotiator, demanded an overhaul to the Western plan and conveyedhis concerns in a private meeting with Ashton on Thursday.
At the heart of the issue are two different proposals. On one sideis an incentive package by the six-nation group the UnitedStates, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany that seeks tohalt the most sensitive part of Iran's nuclear fuel production. Iran, in turn, wants the U.S. and Europe to ease harsh economicsanctions on its oil exports in return for pledges to give wideraccess to U.N. inspectors and other concessions.
The West and its allies fear Iran's nuclear program couldeventually produce atomic weapons. Iran insists its reactors areonly for energy and research. A senior U.S. official predicted the pace of the talks whichbegan last month in Istanbul would speed up in upcoming rounds. "We are urgent about it, because every day we don't figure this outis a day they keep going forward with a nuclear program," said theU.S.
official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss thenegotiations more candidly. "We still think we have some time fordiplomacy, but it's not indefinite." Hassan Abedini, an executive for Iran's state-run TV channel whowas briefed on the discussions, called the proposal put forward bythe U.S. and its allies unbalanced and filled only with old plansthat Tehran dismissed years ago. The Western package calls on Tehran to halt the production of 20percent enriched uranium, which is the highest grade publiclyannounced by Iran and used for the country's lone medical researchreactor. Western leaders fear the material far above the 3.5percent enrichment needed for energy-producing reactors can beturned into warhead grade in a matter of months.
In exchange, the world powers offered benefits, including medicalisotopes, some nuclear safety cooperation and spare parts forcivilian airliners that are needed in Iran. But they snubbed Iranian calls for an immediate easing ofsignificant economic sanctions imposed on Tehran for flouting U.N.Security Council resolutions that demand the suspension of allenrichment. "Giving up 20 percent enrichment levels in return for plane spareparts is a joke," said Abedini. "The package is unbalanced andtherefore unacceptable." (This version CORRECTS description of Iranian commenter as employeeof state TV, not analyst.) Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.
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