New York Times: Two days of talks between Iran and six world powers ended in failure on Saturday, with Iran refusing to engage on any concrete proposals to build confidence that its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes and with no date set for another meeting.
The New York Times
By STEVEN ERLANGER
ISTANBUL — Two days of talks between Iran and six world powers ended in failure on Saturday, with Iran refusing to engage on any concrete proposals to build confidence that its nuclear program is only for peaceful purposes and with no date set for another meeting.
Western officials expressed disappointment, but not surprise. They reiterated that their proposals, including a modified deal under which Iran would ship out most of its enriched uranium in return for nuclear fuel, were still in effect should Iran choose to open talks without preconditions.
The head of the delegation of the six world powers, Catherine Ashton, the European Union foreign policy chief, said: “Our proposals remain on the table. Our door remains open. Our telephone lines remain open.” But she said the Iranian chief negotiator, Saeed Jalili, made no promise even to raise the proposals in Tehran and report back.
A senior American official said that the Iranians were skillful negotiators, and that “this will be a real test of our patience and resolve.” But with no new talks scheduled, the Obama administration will now face new pressures from Congress and some allies to ramp up another round of sanctions against Iran in a strategy that has always attempted to combine increasing pressure on the country with a continued willingness to negotiate.
At the same time, espionage activities, technical problems and crucial shortages have delayed Iran’s nuclear program, providing more time for talks and pressure short of military action. But that delay also reduces the urgency felt by Iran to negotiate seriously while it continues to pile up enriched uranium, even if more slowly.
Rounds of sanctions have begun to hurt Iran, but clearly not to the point of bringing the survival of the government or the Islamic Revolution into play. In fact, even if they are bluffing, Iranian officials insist privately that the sanctions are making Iran stronger by pushing the government to make needed economic reforms and reduce domestic subsidies on energy and food.
Iran listened to the more detailed proposals of the six — the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany — but did not engage with them, a senior American official said, instead insisting on preconditions rejected on Thursday.
Each member of the group, including Russia and China, held firm in the talks with Iran, European and American officials said, blocking what the American official said was another Iranian effort to split the group.
Mr. Jalili consistently demanded that first the six acknowledge Iran’s “right” to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes and lift sanctions — “obstacles” and “measures” in Iranian parlance — imposed by the United Nations before engaging on more detailed proposals.
“We had hoped to have a detailed and constructive discussion of those ideas,” Ms. Ashton said. “But it became clear that the Iranian side was not ready for this unless we agree to preconditions related to enrichment and sanctions. Both these preconditions are not the way to proceed.”
Mr. Jalili, in a news conference, insisted that the only way to move forward was to agree on a framework that respected Iran’s rights as a signatory of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to enrich for peaceful purposes and that removed punitive measures. “I don’t say these are preconditions,” he said. “These are prerequisites.”
He said that while Iran was open to negotiation on many topics, the six pushed “dictation, not dialogue.” Without a common logic, he said, “it’s no longer a dialogue but just a set of special orders and specifications.” He complained about being dictated to by six nations when about 130 countries have signed the nonproliferation treaty.
But American and European officials said that while the treaty provided the right to civilian nuclear energy, “Iran must also show that its program is peaceful, and we cannot separate the rights in the treaty from the responsibilities,” one said. So long as Iran is not in full compliance with the demands of the International Atomic Energy Agency and cannot prove to the world that its program is solely civilian, the officials said, Security Council sanctions and demands that Iran suspend enrichment will remain in force.
The strategy of the six was to lay out for Iran ways to build confidence, in particular by proposals for more international monitoring and a modified fuel swap agreement, whereby Iran would ship out enriched uranium to be made into fuel rods for a small reactor in Tehran that produces medical isotopes and that is running out of fuel. In October 2009, Iran agreed in principle in Geneva to ship about 2,650 pounds — what was then 75 percent of its lightly enriched uranium — for this purpose, but the swap was vetoed in Iran. The idea was to leave Iran less than the amount required to build one nuclear weapon.
Iran has produced nearly three times as much low-enriched uranium in the meantime, and has also enriched about 90 pounds of it to 19.75 percent, which is more than halfway to the level required for a bomb. So the six want to modify the proposal in order to leave Iran, again, with less low-enriched uranium than required to build a bomb, and with no uranium enriched to 19.75 percent.
But Iran here did not even agree to an expert-level meeting on the proposal, diplomats said.
Still, the fuel swap idea, despite being a central part of a calculated outreach to Iran, could turn into a trap: Iran could make a counterproposal that it ship twice as much — say about 5,300 pounds — out of the country in return for fuel.
Such a proposal would be rejected by the negotiating partners, because it would still leave Iran with more than enough to build a bomb. Still, it could be sold by the Iranians to many countries in the world as a concession to demands by the United States and Europe to prove its peaceful intentions.
As talks shut down here on Saturday, the tone was one of frustration even as officials held out the hope that diplomacy could continue at some point.
One American official said, “We hoped we would have a constructive discussion here, but it became clear that the Iranian side wasn’t ready for this.”
A senior European official spoke of “two quite frustrating days” and said: “We came here with the wish to engage seriously and begin a real dialogue” on concrete proposals to build confidence. “But we couldn’t do that, because we got stuck at the pre-dialogue stage.”
He also said that Ms. Ashton had urged Mr. Jalili to open a bilateral channel to his American counterpart, the under secretary of state for political affairs, William J. Burns. “We told the Iranians privately that it’s a big mistake not to talk to the U.S.,” the European diplomat said. American officials played down the lack of a direct line with Mr. Jalili, saying that it might be too politically dangerous for him at home.