Major powers signal openness to Iran talks

WASHINGTON Fri Jan 20, 2012 4:53pm EST

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks with journalists at Tehran's Mehrabad airport after his visit to Latin American countries January 14, 2012. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks with journalists at Tehran's Mehrabad airport after his visit to Latin American countries January 14, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Raheb Homavandi

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Major powers seeking to negotiate an end to Iran's suspected pursuit of nuclear weapons on Friday signaled their openness to renewed talks with Tehran but diplomats said the powers remain divided on their approach.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who represents the group, issued a statement making clear that a diplomatic path remains open to Iran despite tougher sanctions and fresh speculation of a military strike on its nuclear facilities.

The group, known as the P5+1 and as the EU3+3, includes Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States.

"The EU3+3 has always been clear about the validity of the dual track approach," Ashton's spokesperson said in a statement that included her October 21 letter. "We are waiting for the Iranian reaction."

The release of the statement and the letter itself appeared be an effort to demonstrate that the major powers are willing to talk to Iran, while reiterating their demands that Tehran must return to the table willing to talk about its nuclear program.

It also appeared to reflect frustration at recent Iranian statements hinting at a willingness to return to the table but Tehran's failure to formally respond to the letter and commit to discussing the nuclear program in earnest.

Western nations suspect Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons but Tehran says its nuclear program is for civilian energy purposes.

One diplomat said Iran had been sending mixed signals on whether it might be willing to return to talks in the face of tighter U.S. sanctions focused on its crude oil exports and the possibility of a European Union petroleum embargo.

"This is a way to ensure that our offer is absolutely clear," said the diplomat, adding that the central point was to make clear that "we are prepared to sit down with you if you are prepared to demonstrate serious intent."

There have been signals in recent weeks that Iran might be willing to hold a new round of talks about its nuclear program.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said on Friday time was running out to avoid a military intervention in Iran and he appealed to China and Russia to support new sanctions to force Tehran to negotiate over its uranium enrichment program.

Friday's statement follows pleas by Iran's Arab neighbors for major powers to scale back an intensifying confrontation with Tehran that has sparked an Iranian threat to close the Strait of Hormuz and has raised fears of regional conflict.


Diplomats said that major powers are divided over what incentives to offer Iran if talks resume and whether to allow it to keep enriching uranium at lower levels.

If the Iranians were willing to sit down, the question would then become how the major powers, known as the P5+1 and as the EU3+3, might approach Iran during any such negotiations, notably on any "confidence-building measures."

"There is no agreement inside the P5+1 on how such confidence-building measures should or should not be presented to the Iranians," said one diplomat.

A central issue is whether the group might ask Iran to cease enriching uranium to the higher level of 20 percent but allow it, at least for a time, to continue enriching at lower levels -

a stance partly at odds with the group's past positions.

Uranium enrichment is a process that at low levels can yield fuel for nuclear power plants or, if carried out to much higher levels of purity, can generate fissile material for bombs.

Multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions have called on Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment and related activities and the P5+1 has taken the view that it must suspend such activities during any serious negotiation.

To permit Iran, even for a period, to enrich at lower levels would be something of a concession by the P5+1, although it has previously offered a temporary "freeze-for-freeze" in which Iran would halt expansion of its nuclear program and the major powers would not pursue additional sanctions.

Asked why some members of the group might be willing to let Iran continue to enrich at lower levels, at least for a period, one diplomat said it reflected a desire to give diplomacy every possible chance to succeed.

"That really is the crux of it. You want to be able to say that you pursued every option diplomatically to try to get Iran to halt its program," he said.

A senior Obama administration official told Reuters that if talks were to resume, the group would have a common stance.

"If the Iranians accept the offer of the P5+1 to have talks on the basis of High Representative Ashton's October letter, we fully expect a unified P5+1 approach to the talks," the official said.

(Reporting by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Ross Colvin and Vicki Allen)

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Comments (4)
BruceBanner wrote:
Iran has already put its uranium enrichment “on the table” for three years while the Western powers stalled, content to have Iran not enriching during this time, and having no intention of any further “negotiation” because they already achieved what they wanted.

The NPT gives Iran the right to develop nuclear power. Iranian uranium deposits make it economically smart to generate electricity from domestic uranium, and export more oil and natural gas as the market price for these climb year after year.

The West’s CIA and MI6 coup of Mosaddegh in 1953, installing the hated Shah and his deadly SAVAK secret police, make the Iranian Revolution of 1979 and the subsequent mistrust of The West quite understandable – complaining of less than full disclosure on nuclear power pales compared to complaining of overthrowing a Prime Minister and Parliament and installing a deadly dictator friendly to The West.

The West “suspects” Iran wants a nuclear weapon, because that’s exactly what paranoid Israel wanted. Makes you feel real safe now, doesn’t it, Israel?

Jan 20, 2012 11:54am EST  --  Report as abuse
TomMariner wrote:
The “Major Powers” are stupid, duped jerks. One can always tell when Iran is backed into a corner because they know the West cannot resist the temptation to “talk”. Since there have been people living in that part of the world, the most revered leaders are those who can fool the enemy by telling a story while they sharpen their Scimitars behind the curtains.

When the Iranians ask for a pause, the response ought to be an emphatic no, and continue whatever has been effective in getting them to ask. Because, just like Neville Chamberlain, sooner or later we’re going to find out what they have been doing with the appeasement time. 80 years ago, it was Stukas dive bombing a civilian Polish population into submission — with Iran, it will be a bright light and a big boom. WWII cost our planet 80 Million souls — wonder how many for the aggrandizement of some self appointed religious leaders.

Jan 20, 2012 1:11pm EST  --  Report as abuse
I guess we always have to have a balance of power in our fight for survival between good and evil. The only question is who defines what is good and what is evil? I was hoping that this regime in Iran would make it’s exit and freedom would prevail, but it seems from all comments here that Iranians seem to be more united now than ever.
I will have to put my dreams of a regime change in Iran on hold for God knows how long now. Damn!!!!!!

Jan 20, 2012 3:38pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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