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Iran nuclear talks: What's on the table, what's at stake

Iran nuclear talks began in Istanbul today with topics that could include a revamped version of a nuclear fuel swap deal and ongoing sanctions.

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Where's the common ground?

Despite the challenges, Iran also has reason to find common ground – not least to have sanctions removed and its isolation eased.

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To get there, a host of mostly American Iran specialists – including John Limbert, the US government’s former top diplomat on Iran, who was a hostage in Tehran from 1979-81 – on Thursday issued a joint statement saying it was “imperative that the Obama administration reinvigorate its diplomacy by pursuing engagement with Tehran more persistently, setting realistic objectives, and broadening the US-Iranian dialogue.”

Diplomacy was the “only sustainable means of preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons [and] avoiding the dangerous folly of military confrontation in the Middle East,” said the range of veteran experts, officials, officers and activists. “Unrealistic outcomes, such as insisting that Iran cease uranium enrichment entirely, however desirable, must be set aside.”

Pretalk rhetoric

In the pretalks gameplay, both sides hewed to long-established positions. Iran repeated that nuclear weapons were “illegitimate and against humanity,” but said that it would not be deprived of the ability to enrich uranium for its own nuclear fuel.

“You could not stop us from being nuclear,” President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told a rally in the Iranian city of Yazd on Wednesday. “The Iranian nation will not retreat an inch. The nuclear issue is over from the Iranian point of view.”

The Americans and the P5+1 have also not yet veered from their position of no uranium enrichment. Iran has already installed more than 8,000 centrifuges and has plans for tens of thousands more, all of them, it says, in the service of peaceful nuclear power.

A US diplomatic cable from Vienna in April 2009, released by WikiLeaks and published in The Guardian, shows that American officials recognize that Iran had already improved its capabilities.

“The US commented that although centrifuge operations in 2008 were ‘mediocre,’ Iran had now demonstrated centrifuge operations such that it had the technical ability to produce highly enriched uranium (HEU) if it so chose,” read the cable, a confidential summary of an experts meeting.

Four UN Security Council resolutions have imposed sanctions on Iran and require it to stop enrichment until Iran resolves remaining questions about possible weapons efforts.

Iran's nuclear timeline

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