* Iran and P5+1 agree to meet in Moscow, June 18-19
* Major sticking points remain, but two sides still talking
* Iran wants easing of sanctions before it makes concessions
* Powers want Iran to take tangible steps before sanctions
(Adds U.S. comment)
By Andrew Quinn and Justyna Pawlak
BAGHDAD, May 25 Iran and world powers agreed to
meet again in Moscow next month for more talks to try to end the
long-running dispute over Tehran's nuclear programme, but there
was scant progress to resolve the main sticking points between
the two sides.
At the heart of the dispute is Iran's insistence that it has
the right to enrich uranium and that economic sanctions should
be lifted before it stops activities that could lead to its
achieving the capability to make nuclear weapons.
Western powers insist Tehran must first shut down enrichment
activities before sanctions can be eased.
But both sides have powerful reasons not to abandon
diplomacy. The powers want to avert the danger of a new Middle
East war raised by Israeli threats to bomb Iran, while Tehran
also wants to avoid a looming Western ban on its oil exports.
After discussions in Baghdad extended late into an
unscheduled second day on Thursday between envoys from Iran and
the six powers, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine
Ashton said it was clear both sides wanted progress and had some
common ground, but significant differences remained.
"We will maintain intensive contacts with our Iranian
counterparts to prepare a further meeting in Moscow," she told a
news conference in Baghdad.
The next meeting, the third in the latest round of talks
that began in Istanbul last month, will be held in Moscow on
Ashton leads the negotiations for the six-country group made
up of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council -
Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States - which
together with Germany is known as the P5+1.
"Talks were intensive and long," said Iranian chief
negotiator Saeed Jalili. "They were detailed, but are left
"The atmosphere of these talks was positive for the two
sides to talk about their issues in a clear way. We believe the
result of these talks was that we were able to get to know each
other's views better and more."
While there was little if any concrete progress, the fact
that the two sides agreed to continue talks was a sign of
progress in itself, after more than a year of not meeting at all
before the latest round of negotiations began in April.
"The two sides' commitment to diplomacy in the absence of
any clear agreement is a positive sign," said Ali Vaez, Iran
expert at the International Crisis Group think-tank.
"All parties should be commended for returning to the
negotiating table. Obama should be commended for having turned
diplomacy into a process rather than the one-off meetings that
existed in the past," wrote Trita Parsi, President of the
Washington-based National Iranian American Council.
"Both sides entered negotiations with their maximalist
positions, and neither budged," he said. "Looking ahead, now the
hard work begins."
The six powers want practical steps from Iran to address
their concerns over its nuclear work.
Chief among such concerns is Iran's ability to enrich
uranium to a fissile purity of 20 percent. That is the nuclear
advance most worrying to the West since it opens the way to
reaching 90 percent, or bomb-grade, enrichment.
"Iran declared its readiness to address the issue of 20
percent enrichment and came with its own five point plan,
including their assertion that we recognise their right to
enrichment," Ashton said.
IRAN INSISTS ON ITS RIGHTS
Iran says it will not exceed 20 percent and the material
will be made into fuel for a research reactor.
Iran has hinted at flexibility on higher-grade enrichment
but Iranian media said it would not give away its most potent
bargaining chip without significant concessions on sanctions.
"We never expected to get that agreement (on 20 percent)
here in Baghdad," said a senior U.S. administration official who
declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the subject.
But, he said "there is agreement to address all aspects of
20 percent as we put it on the table".
A significant difference between the two sides is Iran's
insistence on what Jalili called "an undeniable right of the
Iranian nation" to enrich uranium.
"Obviously (that) was not something we were prepared to do,"
the official said, echoing the U.S. view that Iran does not
automatically have this right under international law because,
it argues, Iran is in violation of its obligations under
The United States and its allies suspect Tehran is trying to
develop a nuclear weapons capability and have imposed tough
sanctions on Iran's energy and financial sectors to try to force
it to compromise and open up its activities to scrutiny.
EU states are set to introduce a total embargo of Iranian
crude oil purchases in July. Diplomats say that potentially
persuasive measure will not be cancelled unless Tehran takes
substantial steps to curb its nuclear activities.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said there would be
no let up in sanctions against Iran, even as talks continue.
"As we lay the groundwork for these talks, we will keep up
the pressure as part of our dual-track approach," she told
reporters in Washington hours after the talks ended in Baghdad.
"All of our sanctions will remain in place and continue to move
forward during this period."
The senior U.S. official said the six powers were going to
try to advance the talks "as fast as we can". But it was too
early to talk about technical level or expert meetings because
the political issues still needed to be clarified.
The official said sanctions coming into effect in coming
weeks would increase leverage on Iran in the negotiations.
"Maximum pressure is not yet being felt by Iran," the
official said, adding there were many other potential sanctions
that remained to be employed.
WORRIES ABOUT WAR
The powers want Iran to send its more highly refined uranium
abroad and close an underground plant devoted to 20 percent
enrichment which is largely invulnerable to air strikes.
In return, the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain
and Germany have offered fuel to keep Iran's medical isotope
reactor running, assistance in nuclear safety and an end to an
embargo on spare parts for Iran's ageing civilian aircraft.
Rising tension over the past year has pushed global oil
prices upwards as the West has broadened sanctions to bar Iran's
crude exports and the spectre of Middle East war has increased
with the threat of possible Israeli strikes on Iran's nuclear
Israel is believed to be the only Middle East country with
nuclear weapons but regards Iran's nuclear aspirations as a
mortal threat given its calls for the demise of the Jewish
Iran, the world's No. 5 oil exporter, says it is enriching
uranium only in order to generate electricity to serve the needs
of a burgeoning population, and for a medical research reactor.
The Islamic Republic has repeatedly ruled out suspending all
enrichment as called for by several U.N. Security Council
resolutions, saying nuclear energy is a matter of national
sovereignty and pride in technological progress.
(Additional reporting by Patrick Markey and William Maclean in
Baghdad, Marcus George and Isabel Coles in Dubai, Zahra
Hosseinian in Zurich, Fredrik Dahl in Vienna and Paul Eckert in
Washington; Writing by Mark Heinrich and Jon Hemming; Editing by
Angus MacSwan and Giles Elgood)