‘Intense and tough’ Iran nuclear talks in Moscow reveal wide gaps

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Moscow_ Iran for the first time on Monday gave a point-by-point response to an international proposal on halting its 20% enrichment activities. But international diplomats said the presentation, replete with PowerPoint slides, at a meeting in Moscow Monday, if anything only made more daunting the diplomatic challenge of trying to narrow the yawning gaps between the two sides in the near term.

“We had an intense and tough exchange of views today,” Michael Mann, spokesman for European Union foreign policy chief and lead international negotiator Catherine Ashton, told journalists at the conclusion of the first day of international Iran nuclear negotiations in Moscow 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,” Mann said. “We agreed to reflect overnight on each others’ positions.”

“It’s not enough, it’s not close to enough,” a diplomat at the talks said later, on condition of anonymity, saying the lengthy Iranian presentations Monday did not strike him as signaling Iranian seriousness about negotiations on confidence-building steps.

Then again, the Russians would not want the Iran diplomatic process to “break down” on their turf, he surmised. Some stray hopes for progress rested on the fact that lead Iran negotiator Dr. Saeed Jalili had a dinner meeting Monday night with his Russian counterpart, Nikolai Patrushev, the secretary of Russia’s national security council and former FSB chief, although no results from it were yet known Monday night. “We’ll see what happens tomorrow,” the official said.

The lead Russian negotiator at the talks acknowledged wide gaps in the two sides’ thoughts on how to structure and sequence a work plan for easing international concerns about Iran’s nuclear program and accumulating stockpile of 20% enriched uranium.

“The difficulty here is not only quite a distance between the positions but also the sequencing … what comes first, what comes next, what this reciprocity means,”  Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told journalists upon leaving the meetings–at a hotel near Moscow’s Foreign Ministry and famed Arbat pedestrian boulevard. “The logic of the negotiations is extremely complicated.”

Diplomatic observers cautioned that these high-stakes multiparty talks tend to have an ebb and flow, and things that looked irrevocably stuck at one point sometimes got unstuck a few hours later. Sometimes.

“Give this some time,” a European diplomat said late Monday. “We can’t judge the talks every five minutes.”

Mann’s statement that the parties had agreed to “reflect overnight” seemed to imply code for the Iranian negotiators having an opportunity to make calls back to Tehran for further consultations and instructions. (The point when it becomes evident that things can’t move further until Iran calls back home comes in every such meeting, diplomats have said.) There were likely some calls back to Washington and European capitals Monday evening as well. Continue reading