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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.

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The P5+1 offer also wants Iran to shut down its Fordow enrichment facility, which is buried under a mountain and is under safeguard by United Nations nuclear agency inspectors, but impregnable from US or Israeli attack. Iran's state-run IRNA news agency called the package "outdated, not comprehensive, and unbalanced."

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Doubts about the legality of imposing such steps were expressed to Iran by some P5+1 members during private discussions, the Iranian diplomat said.

Some of those measures have long been considered part of an eventual deal, and a number of incentives are apparently part of the P5+1 offer. But those incentives do not include the quid pro quo Iran expected – easing the US, UN, and European Union sanctions that have targeted Iran's central bank, SWIFT access, and exports of oil, the lifeblood of the Iranian economy.

"This is what we were afraid of," says the Iranian diplomat. "No one is going to accept these things this way. The 20 percent and shutting down Fordow, in return for nothing? Nothing?"

Another Iranian official told Agence France Presse that world powers had to "revise" the offer, or risk an end to nuclear diplomacy. "The points of agreement are not yet sufficient for another round," the official said on condition of anonymity. 

"We believe that the two parties must agree on common points to merit a new round of negotiations," the official told AFP, adding that "the Western parties want to continue these negotiations at any cost. This is not our position."

Western official: Proposals 'of interest to Iran'

The tension contrasts with the unusually positive atmospherics prior to the Baghdad round, as deputies from both sides met twice to work on an agenda.

"Last time they said the right things, in the right way," said a Western diplomat prior to the start of talks. "This time they are saying the right things, in the right way, with the right details."

On the eve of the talks, however, American and European diplomats were reported to have ruled out any quick sanctions relief for Iran, regardless of the steps Tehran might take.

"Just hope the Iranians are not deluding themselves they are going to get sanctions relief now – that's not going to happen at this stage," a Western official told Laura Rozen, according to a piece in Al Monitor yesterday.

In Baghdad, Western officials were more circumspect.

"We have a new offer on the table which addresses our main concerns about the Iranian nuclear program," said Michael Mann, spokesman for Ms. Ashton, as the talks began. "We hope the Iranians respond positively and we can make progress today."

Mr. Mann said there were "proposals ... that are of interest to Iran," but said he could not confirm that they included any sanctions incentives.

Preliminary bid?

The P5+1 offer may only be a preliminary bid. Western officials say they are hoping for another meeting in a few weeks – before a European embargo of Iranian oil takes effect in July.

Iranian media reported that Iran presented its own five-point package of nuclear and non-nuclear issues.

"In the first session, the P5+1 presented its proposals to Iran, but apparently from the Iranian point of view this package is not balanced," the Iranian Student News Agency reported.


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