The latest round of talks on Iran’s nuclear programme have ended without a clear breakthrough, officials said yesterday. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said “significant gaps” remained after “tough and frank” exchanges in the talks in Moscow.
“The choice is Iran’s,” she added. “We expect Iran to decide whether it is willing to make diplomacy work, to focus on reaching an agreement on concrete confidence-building steps, and to address the concerns of the international community.”
Ashton told reporters that the sides have agreed to continue talks on a technical level before deciding on whether to hold further high-level talks. Technical experts from both sides will now meet in Istanbul on 3 July, to “increase the understanding” of Iran’s positions. After this, there would be contacts between deputy negotiators from Iran and Ashton’s office, and then between Ashton and Iran’s chief negotiator, Saeed Jalili, to decide whether it is worth resuming talks between Tehran and the six negotiating powers.
Officials from all sides insisted that the downgrading of talks did not amount to a total breakdown of diplomacy. Ashton denied that the planned low-level contacts amounted to talks for talks’ sake, saying Iran had “engaged for the first time in the substance” of the proposal that was being offered, but she admitted there was “a very, very long way to go”.
However, the failure to make progress in Moscow and the downgrading of talks will most likely produce a “negative” Israeli reaction, Senior BICOM research Fellow Michael Herzog told reporters. “Israel will say the result highlights the fact the parties are unable to continue on a high level. The differences cannot be resolved on a technical level. Israel will declare that diplomacy is failing and will probably demand the international community to set a timetable and just not let talks go and on,” he added.
Shortly after the talks the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, issued a statement regretting “that Iran was not prepared to negotiate seriously on specific concerns of the international community – in particular regarding 20% enrichment.” “This is a missed opportunity to address the serious concerns of the international community,” Hague said.
At Moscow, the six negotiating powers demanded that Iran suspend enrichment of uranium to 20%, close down an underground enrichment facility near the city of Qom and export its stockpile of 20%-enriched uranium. In return, the world powers said they would be prepared to start by offering help with nuclear safety measures. Iran, however, wanted the West to lift sanctions, including an EU oil embargo and US measures against Iran’s central bank.