EU, Iran nuclear negotiators Ashton, Jalili to meet in Turkey

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European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton will meet Iran’s top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili for dinner in Turkey Tuesday night, European Union diplomatic sources confirmed to Al-Monitor Monday.

It will be the first face to face meeting between the chief international and Iranian nuclear negotiators since June.

The informal meeting “is part of continuing efforts to engage with Iran, led by the High Rep, and in line with the understandings reached at the negotiating round in Moscow in June,” a European diplomat told Al-Monitor Monday.

“While it is not a formal negotiating round, the meeting will be an opportunity to stress once again to Iran the need for an urgent and meaningful confidence building step and to show more flexibility with the proposals the E3+3 tabled in Baghdad,” a spokesperson for Ashton said.

Jalili arrived in Ankara for meetings with Turkish leaders Monday ahead of the Ashton dinner, Iran’s Fars News Agency reported Monday.

Western and Iranian analysts alike expressed low expectations for the outcome of the meeting, except to maintain a level of engagement.

“Considering the current circumstances, [the] dinner is just to give public CPR to the talks so they will be alive through November,” Iran analyst Mohammad Ali Shabani told Al-Monitor Monday.

Diplomatic contact between the two sides has become strained and limited after three rounds of high level negotiations between six world powers and Iran this past spring produced little progress towards a deal. But Ashton and her deputy Helga Schmidt have worked to at least keep the diplomatic channel open to Tehran, and the Iranians have expressed interest in continuing negotiations.

But short of signs that Iran is prepared to accept a confidence building measure, western diplomats and China are reluctant to agree to another high-level meeting with Iran in the near term, diplomatic sources previously told Al-Monitor. Senior envoys from the six world powers will confer as a group on the sidelines of he United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York later this month.

International powers earlier this year proposed that Iran stop its higher level 20% uranium enrichment activities, ship out its 20% stockpile, and shut down the Fordow enrichment facility, in exchange for various inducements. Iran has said it would be willing to discuss curbing its 20% enrichment but wants recognition of its right to enrich for energy purposes and eventual sanctions relief.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking Sunday on US news shows, said Iran is within the “20 yard line” of making a nuclear weapon, which he said could be achieved within “six to seven months.” That timetable, however, would seem to suggest that the Israeli leader is leaning towards holding back on unilateral Israeli action this fall.

(Photo: Reuters)