Powers, Iran discuss detail of possible nuclear deal
Wed May 23, 2012 8:09pm GMT
By Justyna Pawlak and Patrick Markey
BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iran and world powers exchanged unusually detailed
proposals at talks in Baghdad on Wednesday in hopes of defusing a long
standoff over suspicions Tehran's atomic energy programme may be a disguised
quest for nuclear weapons.
The stakes could hardly be higher: global oil markets are jittery over
extended Western sanctions imposed on Iran's vital crude exports and the
spectre of a Middle East war arising from possible Israeli strikes against
its defiant arch-enemy.
But no breakthrough appeared to be in the offing in Baghdad, where the six
powers were testing Iran's willingness to curb its uranium enrichment work.
Differences remained, notably, over when Iran would be rewarded with relief
from economic sanctions.
Two diplomats said the discussions were expected to resume on Thursday, but
there was no immediate confirmation.
After a 15-month diplomatic freeze and exploratory talks in Istanbul last
month, envoys for Iran and the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain
and Germany convened with both sides publicly upbeat about the scope for an
"We had a detailed exchange this morning," said a Western diplomat who spoke
of the six powers presenting a 'package' of proposals in the morning. "The
atmosphere was businesslike."
In the afternoon, another diplomat said, Iran reacted to the offers and
"also broadened out the discussions to touch on other areas we see as
Iranian media close to the Tehran government said its chief negotiator Saeed
Jalili presented its own five-point package of proposals covering a
"comprehensive" range of nuclear and non-nuclear issues.
The official news agency IRNA sounded a note of discord by quoting Iranian
officials as referring to the big-power proposal as "nitpicking" while
student news agency ISNA said: "Apparently from the Iranian point of view
this package is not balanced."
However, those leaks did not appear to be Tehran's final response as the
talks ran on into the evening.
The powers' overall goal is an Iranian agreement to curb uranium enrichment
in a transparent, verifiable way to ensure it is for peaceful purposes only.
Iran's priority is to secure an end to sanctions isolating the country and
damaging its economy.
The pivotal proposal by the six, led by European Union foreign policy chief
Catherine Ashton, was for Iran to halt its enrichment of uranium to the
higher fissile concentration of 20 percent, her spokesman Michael Mann said
as talks got under way.
That is the Iranian nuclear advance most worrying to the West since it
largely overcomes technical obstacles to reaching 90-percent, or bomb-grade,
enrichment. Iran says it is enhancing the fissile purity to such a degree
only for medical research.
"We have a new offer on the table which addresses our main concerns about
the Iranian nuclear programme. The 20-percent enrichment question," Mann
told reporters. "We hope the Iranians respond positively and we can make
In a separate interview with Iran's state-run English-language Press TV,
Mann said no final deal was expected in Baghdad because progress was likely
to be only gradual.
He said toughened sanctions, especially an EU ban on Iranian oil exports due
to take full effect on July 1, had helped to draw Iran finally into serious
Iran has hinted at flexibility on higher-grade enrichment although analysts
caution that it would be unlikely to compromise much while sanctions remain
In previous meetings the two sides could not even agree an agenda, with each
largely repeating known positions and Tehran refusing any dialogue on
changes to its nuclear path.
IRAN HOPES FOR "GOOD NEWS" SOON
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, speaking to reporters in Tehran,
said: "The ideas fielded to us speak of the fact that the other side would
like to make Baghdad a success. We hope that in a day or two we can bring
Salehi also warned that Iran would not bow to pressure: "Their policies of
pressure and intimidation are futile. They have to adopt policies to show
goodwill to solve this issue."
Russia said the Islamic Republic appeared ready for serious discussion of
substantive steps to resolve the impasse in return for the phased removal of
Speaking of preparatory discussions before Baghdad, Foreign Minister Sergei
Lavrov said in Moscow: "We got the clear impression ... that the Iranian
side is ready to seek agreement on concrete actions." These would be taken
step by step.
Another proposed step will be an updated version of an idea first floated in
2009 that envisaged Iran shipping out the bulk of its low-grade uranium -
which could potentially be converted into weapons fuel - in return for
higher-enriched fuel for the medical research reactor in Tehran, a diplomat
It was unclear whether that idea would gain traction after Iran's
announcement on Tuesday that it had supplied its first batch of domestically
made fuel to that reactor - a message probably meant to boost its leverage
The Islamic Republic launched higher-grade enrichment two years ago and has
since transferred the operation to a bunkered, underground plant at Fordow
that, to Israeli alarm, would be largely impervious to attack from the air.
"The key issue is the 20-percent enrichment potential. This has to be
addressed in order to have a productive outcome," said one Western diplomat.
"The marching orders for Baghdad are to have concrete ideas on the table,
maybe not necessarily agree on all details of these ideas, but to have a
Iran, a major oil exporter, says it is enriching uranium for electricity.
That requires fuel refined to 5 percent, although it will be many years
before power stations are built. It also wants radioactive isotopes for
Tehran has repeatedly ruled out suspending enrichment as called for by
several U.N. Security Council resolutions.
DEAL ON EXPANDED U.N. INSPECTIONS "CLOSE"
In a possible sign of a new Iranian willingness to address concerns about
its atomic ambitions, the U.N. nuclear supervisor said on Tuesday he
expected to sign a deal soon to unblock an investigation into suspected
Iranian attempts to design a nuclear weapon.
But Western officials note past failures to carry out deals on more
intrusive inspections between the International Atomic Energy Agency and
Iran, and their patience is running out.
Iran suggested it would try to parlay its reported rapprochement with the
IAEA into a deal in Baghdad to relax sanctions inflicting increasing damage
on its economy, including a European Union oil embargo due to take effect in
But Western officials ruled out such a weighty concession so soon, even
though their call for a "step-by-step" negotiating process is widely seen as
a tacit admission that sanctions will have to be eased at some point.
"Sanctions are only going to be lifted if we have significant and genuine
progress," one diplomat said.
Israel, widely assumed to have the Middle East's only nuclear arsenal, has
loudly expressed its scepticism about the chances for diplomacy to rein in
its major adversary.
Defence Minister Ehud Barak said Israel was concerned that the world powers
would not press hard enough to put a full stop its nuclear programme and
that Israel would keep all options open - an allusion to military action -
to achieve that goal.
(Additional reporting by William Maclean in Baghdad, Marcus George in Dubai,
Fredrik Dahl in Vienna and Steve Gutterman in Moscow; Writing by Mark
Heinrich; Editing by Philippa Fletcher and Alastair Macdonald)
C Thomson Reuters 2012 All rights reserved
------------[ Sent via the dehai-wn mailing list by dehai.org]--------------
Received on Wed May 23 2012 - 17:01:51 EDT