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Iran nuclear talks: New plan barely masks failure

A 'tense' and 'tough' round of Iran nuclear talks ends in Moscow without a compromise, but fearing the fallout from a collapse in negotiations, world powers set a new round for July.

By Staff writer / June 19, 2012

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton listens to a question during a news conference after discussions on the controversial Iranian nuclear program in Moscow Tuesday.

Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP

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Washington

World powers, all too fearful of the ramifications of an outright collapse of talks with Iran on its nuclear program, on Tuesday decided to mark an inability to reach even a minimal agreement with Iran by scheduling another round of discussions for sometime next month.

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But the case of diplomatically kicking the can down the road seemed unlikely to mask the bleak prospects for compromise with Iran on its nuclear ambitions – and that reality appears certain to agitate world oil markets, speed up the clock ticking on yet another military confrontation in the Middle East, and become a major factor in the US presidential campaign.

Russian officials who hosted this week’s round of talks in Moscow and European Union chief diplomat Catherine Ashton, who led the negotiating from the world powers’ side of the table, acknowledged at the end of what were called “tense” and “tough” discussions Tuesday that no compromise had been found between two sides that remained far apart.

Lady Ashton told reporters at the end of talks Tuesday that there is still a “very very long way to go” before Iran adequately addresses concerns about its nuclear program.

The best Ashton could muster was an agreement to meet again on July 3 in Istanbul – but even that meeting will be at the lower expert level, and thus won’t include the high-level (and potentially decision-making) officials who attended the Moscow meetings, such as Ashton and Iran’s chief negotiator, Saeed Jalili.

The Moscow talks were unable to bridge any of the yawning gap separating the two sides – what might be called a three-demands-to-two faceoff.

The P5-plus-1 world powers, composed of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council – the US, Russia, China, Britain, and France – plus Germany, had three basic demands, which they summarized as “stop, shut, and ship:” To address international concerns that it is amassing the elements of a nuclear bomb, Iran should stop enriching uranium to 20-percent purity, a level not far from weapons-grade; shut its underground nuclear facility at Fardow; and ship its stockpile of 20-percent-enriched uranium out of the country.

On its side, Iran had two key demands: that the international community recognize Iran’s right to enrich uranium under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, and that world powers (specifically the US and the EU) agree to soften economic sanctions on Iran as an inducement for Iran to accept certain limits on its nuclear program.

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