Tough talks aimed at helping resolve the crisis over Iran’s nuclear program entered an unscheduled second day yesterday with world powers and Tehran seemingly wildly at odds.
“They are positive, but this is not our position. We need to find a common base in order to continue the negotiations,” an official with the Iranian delegation at the talks in Baghdad said early yesterday.
He added that the meeting, due to resume at 8:30am, could wrap up as early as 10am, with the Chinese and Russian delegations keen to leave around that time.
On Wednesday, the P5+1 powers — the UK, China, France, Russia and the US plus Germany — put a new package of proposals on the table that appeared to horrify the Iranians.
The official with the Iranian delegation, who wished to remain anonymous, called for the P5+1 to “revise” the offer, even saying that common ground was “not yet sufficient for another round” of talks after Baghdad.
Reflecting official thinking, Iranian state media, including the Islamic Republic News Agency (ISNA), all called the proposals “outdated, not comprehensive and unbalanced.”
“There have been some areas of common ground and there has been a fair amount of disagreement, but we all knew that we were going to have a lot of gaps and areas of disagreement,” a senior US official involved in the talks said. “We have engaged in a lot of back and forth. Some of that has been difficult, but any negotiation that is worth its salt is difficult because you are getting down the issues that matter. We are at the beginning of this process. We are not in the middle of it and we are certainly not at the end of it.”
The new approach, presented on behalf of the P5+1 by EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton, was thought to include the demand that Iran reduce uranium enrichment to 20 percent.
In return, world powers were prepared to offer various sweeteners, but not Iran’s key demand of relaxing some of the UN Security Council and unilateral sanctions piled on the Islamic republic in recent years.
Instead, they reportedly proposed a pledge to not impose any new sanctions, as well easing Iranian access to aircraft parts and a possible suspension of an EU insurance ban on ships carrying Iranian oil.
The new approach also reportedly included a revival of previous attempts to get Iran to ship abroad its stockpiles of enriched uranium in return for fuel for a reactor producing medical isotopes.
However, Tehran announced on Tuesday that it was loading domestically produced, 20 percent enriched uranium fuel into the reactor and an Iranian official in Baghdad was dismissive of reviving the idea of a swap.
“A possible swap of uranium enriched by Iran for fuel isn’t very interesting for us because we are already producing our own fuel,” the Iranian official said.
Iran made a five-step counterproposal that an official said was “based on the principles of step-by-step and reciprocity,” which the ISNA news agency called “comprehensive ... transparent and practical.”
Iran and the major powers returned to talks in Istanbul, Turkey, in the middle of last month after a 15-month hiatus, finding enough common ground to agree to meet again in Baghdad, hailing what they said was a fresh attitude.
However, the Baghdad talks were always going to be tough, as to make progress the two sides would have to tackle some of the thorny issues that have divided them — and the P5+1 themselves — for many years.