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Why Iran nuclear talks ended in stalemate

Nuclear talks between Iran and six world powers ran aground on Iranian preconditions about enrichment and sanctions; no plans to meet again.

By Staff Writer / January 22, 2011

Iran's Chief Negotiator Saeed Jalili addresses the media after two-day talks between Iran and six world powers broke down Saturday in Istanbul.

Ibrahim Usta/AP

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Istanbul, Turkey

Iran and six world powers failed to make any progress during two days of talks in Istanbul, raising questions about the future of diplomacy over Iran’s controversial nuclear program.

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The talks hung up on two preconditions laid down by Iran at the outset: that its right to enrich uranium be acknowledged, and that all sanctions be lifted.

Despite deliberations that stretched almost to midnight Friday – and several proposals put on the table for Iran to consider ­­– diplomats ended talks Saturday with no plans to meet again.

American and European negotiators expected more from Iran after preliminary meetings in Geneva last month, since diplomatic stalemate here will boost efforts in Congress for more sanctions as Washington exercises the “pressure” side of its dual-track policy.

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And Iran appears to have overreached by misjudging the willingness of the P5+1 – the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany – to step away from a process it had come to see as pointless.

“This is not the conclusion I had hoped for,” said European foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who represented the P5+1 and said she was “disappointed,” though "the door remains open" for Iran.

“We had hoped to have a detailed and constructive discussion of those ideas,” said Ms. Ashton. “But it became clear that the Iranian side was not ready for this unless we agreed to preconditions relating to enrichment and sanctions. Both these preconditions are not a way to proceed.”

After the talks, Iran’s chief negotiator Saeed Jalili told a press conference that Iran’s demands were not preconditions, but in fact “prerequisites” that were mandatory to further discussion. He said the P5+1 wanted “dictation, not dialogue.”

The two sides often appeared to be speaking about different events. Mr. Jalili was well into his press conference before he mentioned the word “nuclear,” the subject that Ashton said later was the “only” issue discussed.At the table for the US was William Burns, the undersecretary of State for political affairs.

Jalili later told the Monitor, when asked about Ashton’s disappointment, that in talks aimed at “finding common ground for cooperation, there shouldn’t be any disappointment.”

Was he therefore pleased with the outcome? “We believe that if we were committed [together] into a common logic, we could have better results and achievements,” Jalili told the Monitor. “And that common logic is respecting the rights of nations and avoiding confronting the nation’s rights.”

Numerous UN Security Council resolutions – four of them imposing targeted sanctions on Iran – require the Islamic Republic to stop enriching uranium while it resolves questions about possible weapons efforts.

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