High-level talks aimed at preventing Iran from further uranium enrichment activity have been put on hold after representatives of the P5+1 countries and Iran failed to reach agreement during a meeting in Moscow this week
The talks involving the P5+1 – the United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia, China and Germany – and Iran were sought by European Union foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton after a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency last year, which suggested the country could be developing nuclear weapons.
Further high-level meetings have now been put on hold, however, with only a technical meeting in Istanbul planned for July 3, followed by contact at the deputy level before attempts to try to restart high-level meetings resume. The talks process was seen as crucial in avoiding a first strike by the Israeli military against Iranian nuclear sites. Israel believes a nuclear-armed Iran could potentially target Israeli cities, and has said that Iran becoming a nuclear power was a "red line" for the country.
In order to do develop nuclear weapons, Iran would need to enrich uranium far beyond the four or 5 per cent enrichment needed for nuclear power generation, but its 20 per cent enrichment activity –allegedly for medical research purposes – has led to fears that further enrichment, for use in nuclear weapons, is inevitable.
The P5+1 countries have insisted Iran stop its 20 per cent enrichment of uranium, shut down the Fordow nuclear facility and ship all 20 per cent enriched uranium out of the country. In return they offered to supply pre-fabricated plates for use in Iranian medical research reactors.
Iran in turn asked for relief from sanctions and international recognition of its right to enrich uranium in return for the suspension of 20 per cent enrichment and cooperation with United Nations nuclear inspectors.
After the talks, Ashton said there were still "significant gaps between the substance of the two positions," adding: "The choice is Iran's. We expect Iran to decide whether it is willing to make diplomacy work, to focus on reaching agreement on concrete confidence building steps, and to address the concerns of the international community."
The planned technical meetings will see experts from both sides discuss the detail of each other's position before contacting Iran and Ashton's deputy negotiators. Only then would a resumption of the high-level P5+1 talks be sought. Chief Iranian negotiator Saeed Jalili told reporters Iran was "hopeful" that the technical meetings "can reach acceptable conclusions and give proposals so that Ms Ashton and I can reach a decision regarding the time and place for the next negotiations".
Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council, urged the P5+1 to offer to lift sanctions as part of future negotiations. "If a compromise is not vigorously pursued, war will become far more likely," said Parsi. "As Western countries escalate economic warfare against Iran, Iran is likely to escalate in kind, exacerbating the already perilous spiral towards conflict.
"This begs an important question: Are we willing to risk war for the sake of never lifting any sanctions?"This article was first published by PublicServiceEurope.com's sister site defencemanagement.com Iran nuclear talks downgraded