Nuclear talks stall as Iran demands end to sanctions


THE US and other world powers yesterday pressed Iran to accept a series of immediate restrictions on its nuclear programme, hoping that concessions by Tehran would help defuse western fears that it aims to build an atomic bomb.

As the six world powers held the latest in a series of meetings with Saeed Jaleeli, the Iranian nuclear negotiator, western diplomats said they wanted Iran to agree to a range of measures, such as an immediate halt to the production of more highly enriched uranium at an underground bunker at Fordow.

Diplomats say such concessions would boost confidence that Iran is curtailing its nuclear ambitions, which Israel believes are aimed at building a nuclear device.

In return for concessions, the US and its allies were offering Tehran a range of “sweeteners”, such as the provision of urgently needed spare parts for Iran’s civil airlines and help in guaranteeing nuclear safety at atomic sites.

After an initial three-hour session with Mr Jaleeli in Baghdad, diplomats gave the impression that it was proving harder than expected to get the Iranian delegation to agree to the package of reciprocal steps being put to them.

Mr Jaleeli’s interventions in the first three hours of talks indicated that he was looking for the international community to reverse planned or existing sanctions in return for freezing the production of 20 per cent uranium, according to diplomats. The US and EU refuse to do this unless there is a big concession by Iran over the future of the programme.

“There is a mismatch of expectations between Iran and the six over the package that is being proposed,” said one diplomat.

“We will need to drill down in discussions to see what aspects of the package Iran is prepared to accept.” The success of the dialogue between Iran and the six powers – the US, UK, France, Germany, Russia and China – is seen as critical to preventing Israel from carrying out an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities in the near future.

Israel has indicated it will contemplate such an attack because an Iranian nuclear weapon is an existential threat to Israelis and Iran is going beyond the point of no return.

Western diplomats said that if Tehran gave the green light to the package it would be finalised at another meeting of Iran and the six powers within a short period.

“We do not want the next meeting to be in five weeks, the time that separated our last session in Istanbul and the one in Baghdad today,” said one diplomat. “If we think we are getting traction, we would expect negotiations from here to go at a much quicker pace.”

The meeting comes days after Yukiya Amano, the director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, said he was close to signing a deal with Iran under which Tehran would clear up questions relating to possible military dimensions of its nuclear programme. But diplomats insisted that, while Mr Amano’s breakthrough was important, the critical issue was to get an agreement on confidence-building measures.