Diplomats describe “intense and tough” talks with Iran in Moscow

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Moscow_”Tense and tough” is how a western diplomat characterized the atmosphere at talks between six nations and Iran that got underway in Moscow today. But diplomats so far are not saying very much.

Russian negotiator Sergei Ryabkov, emerging briefly during a lunch break, dodged reporters’ questions. He did say that Iran’s chief negotiator Saeed Jalili had accepted a meeting tonight with his Russian counterpart, Nikolai Patrushev, the head of Russia’s national security council and former FSB chief.

Diplomats from the P5+1 and Iran met in a plenary session for two hours Monday morning, then broke for lunch. They then went into another plenary meeting at about 3:30  PM. That meeting ended around 6 PM, as expected, so that Jalili could make his dinner appointment with Russia’s NSC chief.

Talks will resume on Tuesday. Diplomats from the seven delegations–Iran plus the United States, UK, France, Germany, Russia and China–plan to reconvene in a plenary meeting at noon, leaving the morning open for possible bilateral discussions, EU spokesman Michael Mann said.

“We had an intense and tough exchange of views today,” Mann told journalists at the conclusion of the first day of talks Monday.

The Iranians “responded to our package of proposals from Baghdad but, in doing so, brought up lots of questions and well-known positions, including past grievances,” he continued. “We agreed to reflect overnight on each others’ positions.”

“Reflect overnight” being code–by some interpretations–for the Iranians calling Tehran to get further instructions.

The overall reticence and body language suggest what another official characterized as a tough if businesslike meeting.

Western negotiators suggested Monday it may not be helpful to give an overly detailed blow by blow account of the meetings as they play out. In the run up to the Moscow talks, Iranian and European diplomats more openly traded barbs, as the P5+1 rebuffed Iranian requests for a preparatory meeting among experts. Iranian positioning in their press seemed to suggest that Iran may be trying to preemptively blame the West for any failure of the talks in Moscow, European diplomats surmised.

Diplomats seem keen to avoid such open public squabbles in the current talks given their ebb and flow.

Earlier Monday, an Iranian diplomat told journalists that Iran intended to deliver three messages in the morning meeting. First, to criticize western negotiators for refusing Iranian requests for a preparatory meeting before the Moscow talks and as he put it, wasting the last month since Baghdad. Secondly and more significantly, the Iranian diplomat said Iran intended to give a detailed response to all the points in a confidence building proposal put forward by the P5+1 at a meeting last month in Baghdad, in line with the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Third, Iran planned to give the P5+1 a more detailed run-through of its five-point plan, first presented in Baghdad but not in any detailed written form. Iran has expressed annoyance that western diplomats have derisively referred to the Iranian plan as mere “ideas” in contrast to the “detailed, concrete proposal” put forward by the P5+1.

To the task Monday, the Iranians brought a PowerPoint presentation, the EU’s Mann said. Iran had for the first time addressed in such substance the details of the P5+1’s proposal he said, adding later that “address” is a “neutral” term.

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