World powers want new nuclear talks with Iran quickly

BRUSSELS Wed Nov 21, 2012 3:45pm EST

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks during a ceremony at the Natanz nuclear enrichment facility, 350 km (217 miles) south of Tehran, April 9, 2007. REUTERS/Caren Firouz

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks during a ceremony at the Natanz nuclear enrichment facility, 350 km (217 miles) south of Tehran, April 9, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Caren Firouz

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Six world powers agreed on Wednesday to seek renewed talks with Iran as fast as possible, reflecting a heightened sense of urgency to resolve a long rift over Tehran's disputed nuclear activity and avert the threat of war.

Their call coincided with growing evidence of Iran expanding nuclear capacity in an underground bunker virtually impervious to attack and follows the November 6 re-election of U.S. President Barack Obama, which has cleared the way for new contacts.

Senior diplomats from the six countries - the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany - met in Brussels on Wednesday to consider new negotiating tactics despite abiding skepticism that a deal with Tehran can be reached.

It was not clear after the meeting what options, if any, were agreed. But the six said "necessary contact" with the Iranians would be made "in the coming days".

"The (six powers) are committed to having another round of talks with Iran as soon as possible," said a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who represents the six countries in dealings with Iran.

Analysts warn that a window of opportunity for a negotiated solution is narrowing because of growing alarm over Tehran's nuclear course in Israel, the Middle East's only nuclear power which has threatened to bomb the atomic sites of its arch-enemy.

Any Israeli air strikes, which many believe would escalate into a wider Middle East war damaging to a wobbly global economy, are unlikely before Israel's January 22 election, experts say, giving the six powers some room for diplomatic maneuver.

"There certainly is a window to do a deal, but that window is closing, and closing fast. Ultimately it depends on the Iranians meeting their international obligations," said Ariel Ratner, a former Obama administration political appointee on Middle East issues at the State Department.

By "obligations", he was referring to U.N. Security Council resolutions telling Iran to suspend uranium enrichment, the main pathway to nuclear bomb fuel, and open up to U.N. nuclear inspectors in exchange for trade and technology benefits.

Seconding the sense of urgency, Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, in remarks quoted by Interfax news agency, said: "There is no losing time and, from that point of view, the talks were productive and matters have advanced."

"Under conditions when trust between Iran and the Sextet is scarce - in fact it does not exist - the task of reaching a breakthrough finally regulating the problem is extremely complex," he added. "Had we not seen any return from what is taking place...we would not be dealing with it."

Iran's defiance of the U.N. resolutions, rejecting suspicions that it is refining uranium for anything other than peaceful energy, has prompted increasingly harsh sanctions on Tehran.

After three inconclusive rounds of talks with Iran earlier this year, Western diplomats say the six negotiators need a new approach to engineer a deal with the Islamic Republic.

UNDERGROUND NUCLEAR ENRICHMENT

The stakes have risen since diplomacy resumed in April after a hiatus of more than a year, they say, with a U.N. watchdog report last week showing Iran is set to sharply expand uranium enrichment in its bunkered Fordow plant.

Iran denies international accusations it is seeking nuclear weapons and has so far refused to meet demands to scale back its atomic activity, insisting on immediate relief from sanctions.

Western powers have rejected that in previous rounds, instead offering limited incentives focused on technology cooperation. They have also ramped up punitive measures intended to get Iran, one of the world's biggest oil producers and exporters, back to the table for meaningful talks.

Sanctions pressure increased last month when European Union governments tightened restrictions on trading with Tehran and banned imports of Iranian gas, complementing a crippling embargo on Iranian crude oil that took full effect on July 1.

Diplomats say one option being considered by the six powers is to ask Iran for more concessions while offering more substantial sanctions relief.

"With more space in Washington and more pressure in Tehran, there might just be room for a deal," said Jon Wolfsthal, a former adviser to U.S. Vice President Joe Biden. "Sanctions relief has to be on the table at some point, but Iran has to be able to get to 'yes'."

In the earlier meetings this year, the powers called on Iran to stop producing higher-grade enriched uranium, shut down the Fordow facility and ship its stockpile abroad.

Iran rebuffed the proposal, described by Western officials as an initial step to build confidence, and demanded recognition of its "right" to refine uranium, activity which can have both civilian and military purposes, as well as sanctions dropped.

Any new deal would have to be carefully choreographed to entice Iran to make concessions while taking into account deep-seated reluctance among Western governments to ease sanctions.

"The key is sequencing the significant steps," said Cliff Kupchan, a Middle East analyst at consultancy Eurasia Group. "My guess is that's what they (the six powers) will discuss."

Iranian central bank governor Mahmoud Bahmani told Reuters on Thursday that it had avoided a "serious dent" to its economy from sanctions thanks to gold reserves sufficient to last 15 years, high oil prices and reduced imports.

The sanctions have caused the rial currency to plummet, inflation to jump and hundreds of thousands of job losses.

(Additional reporting by Fredrik Dahl in Vienna, Peter Apps in Washington, Randy Fabi and Aisha Chowdhry in Islamabad and Gabriela Baczynska in Moscow; Editing by Michael Roddy)

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Comments (4)
You can talk to these guys until you glow in the dark.

They want nothing but your absolute capitulation and adherence to their regimes policies. They are N. Korea with oil, and that oil is the only reason they’re even remotely relevant on the world stage.

Nov 21, 2012 10:50am EST  --  Report as abuse
Harry079 wrote:
Iran is only seeking peaceful uses for nuclear power but in the meantime if they happen to produce enough weapons grade material by mistake for a few warheads what’s the harm?

I’m sure like their breatheren in Gaza, Syria and other places they would never use a nuclear weapon to threaten anyone.

RIGHT?

November 21st, 2012, 12:25pm EST · See All · Add a Comment · Report Abuse

Nov 21, 2012 4:15pm EST  --  Report as abuse
No they are just trying to get Iran back in the headlines again… the US has not put anything on the table in the negotiations so far and has probably just promised Israel they can invade Gaza when the US planned attack on Iran goes ahead very soon.

Some things strikingly absent from this article…

One it is not mentioned that this nuclear enrichment site ‘imperious to attack’ is under the monitoring of the IAEA. Why would you leave that out reuters??

And you say reuters that Iran is Israels “arch enemy”… but they have never been at war!?

If anyone is Israels arch enemy it would be the countries Israel has been at war with including Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon… some of these countries have had multiple wars with Israel.

How does Iran qualify as ‘arch enemy’ reuters? There has never been a conflict with Iran… the only point of contention is that Iran supports some of the people that Israel is bombing like the Palestinians and Lebanese people.

Israels arch enemy is the Palestinian people, full stop.

Nov 21, 2012 5:41pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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