World powers to meet Iran again next month

A fresh round of talks on Iran`s nuclear programme will be held in Russia next month, officials announced.

Zeenews Bureau

Baghdad: A fresh round of talks on Iran`s nuclear programme will be held in Russia next month, officials announced on Thursday.

Iran and six world powers wrapped up two-day talks in Baghdad yesterday.

After the talks, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said "significant differences" remained, adding some common ground had been found.

Envoys said on Thursday they will meet again next month in Moscow after negotiations stretched out for extra hours and a sandstorm shut the airport in Iraq`s capital. But the two sides agreed on little else during two dramatic days of discussions that underscored the serious challenges of reaching accords between Iran and the West.

"It is clear that we both want to make progress, and that there is some common ground," Ashton, who is formally leading the talks, told reporters. "However, significant differences remain. Nonetheless, we do agree on the need for further discussion to expand that common ground."

Saeed Jalili, Iran`s top nuclear negotiator, offered a lukewarm assessment of what the negotiations achieved, in light of European and American refusal to lift tough sanctions as Tehran had hoped.

"The result of the talks was that we were able to get more familiar with the views of each other," Jalili said at a press conference after Ashton left.

The Baghdad discussions began with hopes for progress before each side accused the other of failing to offer meaningful, realistic proposals. More tellingly, they also showed that US diplomats and others are pressing neither for quick deals nor for ultimatums that could derail the sensitive talks.

"We are moving in a step-by-step process," a senior American official told reporters in Baghdad`s heavily protected Green Zone. "It`s good for them. It`s good for us. It`s good for the world."

The tempered approach offers insights into shifting American priorities over Iran`s nuclear ambitions.

The US has gradually moved off its demands for an immediate and complete halt to Iran`s ability to make nuclear fuel, which the West and allies fear could someday provide the foundations of warhead-grade material. Iran denies it seeks atomic arms.

Instead, the Baghdad talks unveiled a Western-backed incentive package that seeks to end Iran`s highest-level uranium enrichment as a first step. That leaves open speculation that Washington could ultimately accept Iran`s demand to keep its enrichment labs in operation — although possibly at reduced levels to produce lower-grade fuel suitable for its lone power-generating reactor.

Such a compromise would likely require Iran to reciprocate with moves such as allowing greater UN nuclear inspections and suspending work at a bunker-like enrichment site south of Tehran.

The world powers opened the Baghdad talks with a US-backed proposal calling on Tehran to halt the production of 20 percent enriched uranium, which is the highest grade of enrichment that Iran has acknowledged.

In exchange, the world powers offered benefits, including medical isotopes, some nuclear safety co-operation and spare parts for civilian airliners that are needed in Iran.

Staking out a hard-line reply, Iran emphasised it has every right to pursue uranium enrichment for peaceful uses. Jalili said Iran would consider suspending the 20 percent level but only if the world powers recognise its right to enrich uranium.

He also said the West would have to give in to demands to supply Iran with enough nuclear fuel to run a Tehran medical research reactor that currently depends on the 20 percent-level enriched uranium.

"It could be an issue for co-operation over discussions related to the Tehran reactor," Jalili said.

Western leaders fear the 20 percent-level material — well above the 3.5 percent enrichment needed for energy-producing reactors — can be turned into warhead grade at about 90 percent enrichment in a matter of months. Iran insists its reactors are only for energy and research.

(With Agency’s inputs)

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