EU's Ashton hopes Iran nuclear talks resume soon

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Lead international negotiator Catherine Ashton said Tuesday she looks forward to resuming Iran nuclear talks as soon as possible after the appointment of Iran's new nuclear negotiating team, following the inauguration next month of Iran president elect Hassan Rouhani.

Ashton spoke after a meeting in Brussels Tuesday of political directors from the P5+1—the US, UK, France, Germany, Russia and China.

“We met to consider our position and to look at how best we can move forward in trying to find a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear issue,” Ashton, the European Union foreign policy chief, said in a statement.

“Of course we wait now for the team to be appointed by Iran,” she said. “We very much hope that will be soon and we look forward to meeting with them as soon as possible.

The six powers are likely to ask Iran when talks resume in the fall to provide a substantive response to an updated confidence building proposal they presented at a meeting in Almaty, Kazakhstan in February, a senior US official told Al-Monitor last week.

“We all believe that the proposal put on the table [in Almaty] is a good one, and there is still time and space to achieve a diplomatic solution over Iran’s nuclear program,” the senior US official said, stressing the proposal is open for negotiating, but they were reluctant to  negotiate among themselves before hearing back from the Iranians.

“The onus is on Iran, to give us some substantive, concrete response,” the official said.

Some Iran experts are urging the Obama administration to be preparing a bolder offer, or at least to offer further clarification on a “road map” for resolving the nuclear dispute, beyond the confidence-building measure, which is focused on curbing Iran’s 20% enrichment.

“The administration ought to be going into these talks with an open mind and thoughts about how the negotiating process can be most usefully advanced,” Suzanne Maloney, a former State Department Iran expert at the Brookings Institution, told Al-Monitor Monday. Continue reading

‘Intense’ Iran nuclear talks end with agreement to meet again

Amman_Iran and six nations ended two days of “intense” and difficult nuclear talks in Baghdad late Thursday with no breakthroughs but a plan to meet again in Moscow next month, I report with Barbara Slavin on the front page:

The chief international negotiator, EU High Rep Catherine Ashton, announced that another meeting would be held in Moscow, with delegations arriving June 17 and meeting June 18-19. She described the two days of discussions with the Iranians in Baghdad as “very intense and detailed.”

American and European diplomats also offered more insight into their theory that their leverage in the negotiations will increase as new sanctions move forward–not by offering Iran a way to avert them.

“Maximum pressure is not yet being felt in Iran,” a senior American diplomat told a group of journalists at the conclusion of the Baghdad talks, on the condition of anonymity. European Union sanctions on Iranian oil and US sanctions on Iran’s Central Bank, both due to be fully implemented in July, “increase leverage on the negotiation as it proceeds forward,” the official said.

“The Iranians don’t like it,” the diplomat continued. “They hope and would rather we not put additional sanctions on. Indeed they are not at all pleased that soon after Istanbul, the president [Barack Obama] signed a new executive order [sanctioning Iran for supplying technical assistance to Syria to repress dissidents]. We heard about that.”

Notably, the P5+1 did not make public the detailed package of inducements for a confidence building measure under which Iran would curb its 20% enrichment, as western diplomats indicated earlier in the week they planned to do. Perhaps a sign they may be prepared to sweeten the deal some ahead of the next meeting in Moscow next month, given how coldly it was received by the Iranians.

That’s how negotiations work, perhaps.

Lead American envoy to the talks, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, travels from Amman Jordan today to Israel to consult with Israeli leaders about the talks. She may travel on to Saudi Arabia after that or return to Washington.

Read our full piece here.