EU, Iran discuss new nuclear talks

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European Union deputy foreign policy chief Helga Schmid on Wednesday spoke by phone with her Iranian counterpart Ali Bagheri to discuss possible dates and locations for a new round of Iran nuclear talks, a European diplomat told Al-Monitor Wednesday.

It is still unclear if talks will resume before or after the new year, the diplomat said.

“We hope that agreement with Iran can soon be reached on how to continue the talks and make concrete progress towards addressing international concerns and finding a diplomatic solution,” a statement from the office of European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said.

The phone contact to initiate logistical planning for a new meeting comes as the six powers that comprise the P5+1 have been seeking internal consensus on how to update the proposal to present to Iran at the next meeting, Al-Monitor reported this week. Pressure is high to shape and reach a deal that would curb Iran's higher 20% enrichment work on a short time table, given the size of Iran's accumulated stockpile of fissile material and the concern that Iran may become even more politically distracted and uncompromising as it heads into its presidential elections in June.

The recent internal consultations have been close-hold, given the desire to maintain and project unity among the six powers, amid different thinking and constraints on what can and should be put forward, and the diplomatic challenge of how to persuade Iran of the sense of urgency to take a deal soon.

“We are deeply engaged in consultations right now with our P-5+1 colleagues, looking to put together a presentation for the Iranians at the next meeting that does make it clear we’re running out of time, we’ve got to get serious, here are issues we are willing to discuss with you, but we expect reciprocity,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the Saban Forum November 30th.

Diplomatic sources suggested to Al-Monitor this week that at this point, the updated proposal is likely to be more of a slightly broadened and tweaked version of the “stop, shut and ship” package presented to Iran in Baghdad last May, rather than entirely overhauled. Further consultations on the package are likely to continue, however, even as outreach to Iran to begin the process of setting up a new meeting gets underway.

“The package needs a little bit of updating, as things have evolved since the package was defined, but nothing radical is to be expected,” a western diplomat told Al-Monitor Monday (December 10th).

“The E3+3 remain united in their efforts to seek a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear issue,” the statement from Ashton's office continued. “Contacts with Iran are ongoing to agree on a possible next round of talks.”

We want this to work, a member of the European negotiating team told an Iran expert this month, the latter relayed.

Separately, a senior team from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is due to hold meetings in Iran on Thursday. Among the IAEA's goals, to try to negotiate access to a site on the Parchin military base where it is suspected testing on a nuclear explosive device may have occurred and since been cleaned up.

(Photo: Iran's negotiator Ali Bagheri walks after a meeting with the media in Moscow, June 18, 2012. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin.)

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