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Hopes fade for progress at Iran nuclear talks in Baghdad

Iranian officials say practically no sanctions relief was placed on the table by Western powers in response to Iranian concessions over its nuclear program, dashing hopes for any breakthrough in Baghdad.

By Staff writer / May 23, 2012

Iran's chief negotiator Saeed Jalili (3rd r.) and his delegation attend a meeting with representatives of the US., Russia, China, Germany, France, and Britain in Baghdad on May 23.

Courtesy of Government Spokesman Office/Reuters

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Baghdad

Hope for swift progress on a nuclear deal with Tehran faded dramatically today, as world powers presented Iran with a list of stringent demands to curb its uranium enrichment but offered little sanctions relief in return.

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Iranian officials said the new offer reaches beyond the step-by-step and "reciprocal" process agreed in the first round of talks in Istanbul last month, which along with positive signals from both sides had generated high expectations for Baghdad.

"The response from the Iranian side is: 'What you are asking for is ... not what we agreed to in Istanbul,' "  an Iranian diplomat close to the talks told the Monitor, referring to the demands of six world powers that include Iran capping uranium enrichment and scrapping a deeply buried facility.

Steps were meant to be “reciprocal, simultaneous, and ... balanced” in their value to each side, says the Iranian diplomat. Instead, Iran was told there would be “consideration” of easing sanctions “later,” after Iran made concessions.

The Iranian reaction to the proposal indicates that a serious disconnect remains between Tehran and global powers about finding the right formula for curbing Iran's nuclear work, and locking in guarantees that it will not weaponize.

That disconnect surprises Iran experts, after years in which both sides have made clear their priorities. Mr. Jalili in Istanbul was reported to have been "relentless" in requesting European foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton to ease sanctions.

"Iran cannot be expected to make big concessions for the sake of a pittance," says Kaveh Afrasiabi, a former adviser to Iranian nuclear negotiation teams from 2004-06. "The talks can achieve concrete progress only if there is symmetry of compromise on both sides and, unfortunately, the West seems disinclined to observe the rule of mutual reciprocity," says Mr. Afrasiabi, now in Cambridge, MA. "Such a hard-line approach is not conducive to successful talks."

P5+1 offer

Ms. Ashton, speaking on behalf of the P5+1 group (the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany) laid out the proposal to Iran's chief negotiator Saeed Jalili in the first session of the talks in Baghdad today.

The P5+1 offer requires Iran to comply with UN Security Council resolutions and "immediately" halt uranium enrichment to 20 percent – a level not technically far from weapons-grade of 90 percent – and to ship its stockpile out of the country, according to the Iranian diplomat.

"We are ready to have a compromise on that [20 percent enrichment], as long as it is a step-by-step process," says the diplomat.

But suspending all enrichment – including the lowest levels for reactor fuel – is a red line that Iran says it will never accept. Officials frequently cite Iran's "right" to enrich as a signatory of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

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