Iran and world powers have failed to break the deadlock in the crisis over Tehran’s nuclear drive, with the EU’s top diplomat and chief negotiator saying the positions were still “far apart.”
After two days of exhausting diplomacy in the city of Almaty in Kazakhstan, no new date was agreed for the resumption of talks searching for an elusive breakthrough after more than a decade of tensions.
“It is fair to say that Iran is willing to take very limited steps on its nuclear program while expecting very significant results in return,” a senior US official told reporters on condition of anonymity on Saturday.
Iranian Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council Saeed Jalili, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, praised the talks as “comprehensive,” but said Tehran wanted the world powers put more on the table to “gain the confidence” of the Iranian people.
The world powers — comprised of the five permanent UN Security Council members and Germany, known collectively as the P5+1 —had offered some easing of the sanctions that have hurt Iran’s economy over the past two years in return for Tehran accepting limits on its nuclear program.
However, speaking after the talks wrapped up, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton, who is the P5+1’s chief negotiator, said they were still waiting to see “real engagement” from Iran over their proposal.
Britain called Iran’s position “far short” of what was needed.
“Lengthy discussions took place on some issues, but a wide gap remains between the parties. Iran’s current position falls far short of what is needed to achieve a diplomatic breakthrough,” British Secretary of Foreign Affairs William Hague said in a statement.
Unlike the previous round of talks in Almaty in February which ended more cordially, the two sides did not agree a time and a place to hold the next meeting. Instead, Ashton said the sides had decided to go back to their capitals to discuss what to do next and promised that she would be in touch with Jalili.
The US official said Ashton would telephone Jalili within a matter of days, adding that the talks were much more substantive than they had been in the past.
Yet Jalili offered little hope of Iran proposing concessions on the main sticking point in the talks: Tehran’s insistence on its right to enrich uranium on its soil.
“Now they [the world powers] must work to gain the confidence of the Iranian people,” said Jalili, who is close to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. “We believe that the right to enrich is an inalienable right of the Iranian people, whether we are talking about [to a level of] 5 percent or 20 percent.”
US Secretary of State John Kerry yesterday said world powers would pursue further talks with Iran, but stressed the process could not go on forever.
“This is not an interminable process,” Kerry said yesterday after arriving in Istanbul, Turkey, on the first leg of a 10-day trip to the Middle East, Europe and Asia.
He said that US President Barack Obama was committed to continuing the diplomatic process, despite what he called the complicating factor of an Iranian presidential election in June.
Israeli Minister of Strategic Affairs and Intelligence Yuval Steinitz yesterday urged the powers to set a deadline of weeks for military action to persuade Iran to halt its nuclear enrichment.
Steinitz told Israeli Army Radio that action should be taken within “a few weeks, a month” if Iran did not stop its sensitive nuclear program, which Israel sees as a potential threat to its existence.
Additional reporting by Reuters