Meanwhile, UN nuclear inspectors have found traces of uranium in an Iranian underground site refined to a somewhat higher level than the enrichment work that is normally carried out there, a Vienna-based diplomat said on Friday. The diplomat, who declined to be identified, said the higher enrichment level detected was believed to be “within variation” of the usual activity at the Fordow facility, suggesting it was not a big difference and would still be far away from potential weapons grade material. Enriched uranium can be used to fuel power plants, which is Iran’s stated aim, or provide material for bombs, if refined much further, which the West suspects may be Iran’s ultimate goal. Iran denies that.
Western powers insist Tehran must first shut down higher-grade enrichment before sanctions could be eased. But both sides have powerful reasons not to abandon diplomacy. The powers want to avert the danger of a new Middle East war raised by Israeli threats to bomb Iran, while Tehran also wants to avoid a looming Western ban on its oil exports. After discussions in Baghdad extended late into an unscheduled second day on Thursday between envoys from Iran and the six powers, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said it was clear both sides wanted progress and had some common ground, but significant differences remained. “We will maintain intensive contacts with our Iranian counterparts to prepare a further meeting in Moscow,” she told a news conference in Baghdad.
The next meeting, the third in the latest round of talks that began in İstanbul last month after a diplomatic vacuum of 15 months, will be held in Moscow from June 18-19.
Ashton leads the negotiations for the six-country group made up of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- which together with Germany is known as the P5+1. “Talks were intensive and long,” Saeed Jalili, Iran’s chief negotiator and direct representative of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said. “They were detailed, but left unfinished. “The atmosphere of these talks was positive for the two sides to talk about their issues in a clear way,” Jalili added. “We believe the result of these talks was that we were able to get to know each other’s views better and more.” While there was little if any concrete progress, the fact that the two sides agreed to continue talks was a sign of progress in itself, after more than a year of not meeting at all before the latest round of negotiations began in April. “The two sides’ commitment to diplomacy in the absence of any clear agreement is a positive sign,” said Ali Vaez, Iran expert at the International Crisis Group think-tank.
“All parties should be commended for returning to the negotiating table. (US President Barack) Obama should be commended for having turned diplomacy into a process rather than the one-off meetings that existed in the past,” wrote Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council.“Both sides entered negotiations with their maximalist positions, and neither budged. Looking ahead, now the hard work begins.”
Iran, the world’s No. 5 oil exporter, says it is enriching uranium only in order to generate electricity to serve the needs of a burgeoning population, and for a medical research reactor.The skeptical powers want practical steps from Tehran to address their concerns over its nuclear program.