Iran complains over preparations for Moscow nuclear talks

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Deputy nuclear negotiators for Iran and the international community spoke twice by phone last Friday, European diplomats said Monday. But the conversations have apparently not resolved Iranian concerns about upcoming nuclear talks in Moscow, as evinced by an Iranian PR push portraying international negotiators as intransigent and thus responsible for any failure at the meeting.

“Clearly there is a discernible change in Iranian tactics,” a European diplomat, speaking anonymously, told Al Monitor Monday.

Iran wants a meeting in advance of Moscow to prepare the agenda, Iranian analysts said. But European diplomats say the Iranian negotiators are playing games.

The Iran-EU bickering comes as diplomats from the six-nation negotiating group known as the P5+1 arrived in Strasbourg Monday to consult ahead of the next round of Iran nuclear talks, which are due to be held in Moscow June 18-19th. In advance of the meeting, however, Iranian media have steadily reported on a series of letters from Iran’s nuclear negotiators to their European Union counterparts, warning that the talks won’t go well if their requests for an experts meeting in advance aren’t granted.

Iranian media reported Monday on the latest such letter from Iran’s number two nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri to his European Union counterpart, Helga Schmid.

In the letter, dated Sunday June 10, Bagheri wrote that his boss, Saeed Jalilli, had complained to EU foreign policy chief Caatherine Ashton at a meeting in Baghdad last month that “your lack of preparation has caused the trend of the talks to be slowed down and even lead to standstill,” Iran’s IRNA news agency reported.

(A western official said what in fact became apparent in an Ashton-Jalili bilateral meeting in Baghdad on May 23rd were seeming divisions within Iran’s nuclear negotiating team. Specifically, Jalili in Baghdad distanced himself from some positions that his deputy Bagheri had taken in two preparatory meetings with Schmid held quietly in Geneva  in mid May, the source said. That may in part explain why western negotiators have been unreceptive this time to Iranian requests for an “experts meeting” ahead of the Moscow talks, proposing instead a meeting between chief political envoys.)

The Guardian’s Julian Borger adds Monday: “At the end of last week, it appears confusion slipped into farce when the deputy Iranian negotiator, Ali Bagheri, claimed to his EU counterpart, Helga Schmid, that he was not aware of any such proposal, even though he was there at the table when it was handed over. Consequently, Schmid resent the text over the weekend.”)

European diplomats said they hoped to possibly ease some of the acrimony in a telephone conversation scheduled to take place later Monday between Ashton and Jalili.

“We are keen, we want them to engage,” on a confidence building proposal put forward at the Baghdad meeting, the European diplomat said, of western expectations for Iran at the upcoming meeting in Moscow.

He said they have been “doubly surprised” that Bagheri, who he described as “genteel and cordial,” in previous interactions, is recently writing “such acerbic letters.”

Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, the lead US rep to the talks, flew to Strasbourg, France for meetings Monday and Tuesday with her counterparts from the UK, France, Germany, Russia and China as well as the EU’s Ashton.

“The United States remains united with other P5+1 partners in our commitment to serious preparations for the Moscow round of talks, and to enabling the diplomatic track to succeed,” the State Department said in a statement Sunday announcing Sherman’s travel.

“Iran has the opportunity to begin addressing international concerns over its nuclear program by coming to Moscow prepared to take concrete steps in response to the proposals presented in Baghdad,” the statement continued.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will also travel to Iran Wednesday to discuss the upcoming Moscow meeting, as well as Syria and other matters, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced Monday. Russia has proposed that Iran as well as China be included in an expanded international contact group on the Syrian bloodshed, that has killed over 10,000 people. The United States and United Kingdom have both rejected Iran being part of the group for now, saying Iran’s military support to the Assad regime is a major part of the problem in Syria.