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Iran nuclear talks get nitty-gritty in Moscow

On the opening day of Iran nuclear talks in Moscow, Iranian officials said they would 'consider' halting uranium enrichment to 20 percent in exchange for sanctions relief.

By Correspondent / June 18, 2012

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton (l.) and chief Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili (r.) meet in Moscow, on June 18, before the start of the high-stakes talks on the controversial Iranian nuclear programme.

Kirill Kudryavtsev/AP

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Moscow

In Moscow today, Iran and world powers began to "engage" in detail about Iran's nuclear program for the first time, though fundamental differences could prove unbridgeable tomorrow. Such an impasse could jeopardize the diplomatic track and eventually risk another Middle East war.

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The P5+1 group (the US, Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany) want Iran to give up its most sensitive uranium enrichment work, close a deeply buried facility, and take steps that will forever keep it from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

Iran's response today to that proposal – first put forward during acrimonious talks in Baghdad last month – focused on recognition of its "right" to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes, and lifting crippling economic sanctions.

Neither point is part of the current P5+1 package, which will be gnawed over in final sessions in Moscow tomorrow.

"The difficulty here is not only quite a distance between the positions but also the sequencing ... what comes first, what comes next, what this reciprocity means," Sergei Ryabkov, a Russian deputy foreign minister and negotiator, told journalists after the first day of talks. "It's very complex. The logic of the negotiations is extremely complicated."

Afternoon session 'better'

In what may prove to be a critical encounter, Iran's chief negotiator Saeed Jalili met after the formal talks with his Russian counterpart Nikolai Patrushev, head of Russia's national security council and the former chief of Russia's FSB, the successor to the KGB.

But it was far from clear if Russian influence with Iran would be enough to yield progress when talks resume tomorrow. An Iranian diplomat close to the talks told the Monitor the morning session was "not good at all," though the afternoon was "better."

"Neither side is ready to say what their real points are," says the diplomat. "They do not want to be in the position that the other side might guess their cards. Adding to that you could see huge lack of confidence…. P5+1 are not ready to give anything to Iran in response to Iran's steps. [T]hey were here today just to have Iran's response. It seemed that they did not have any clear vision [of] the next steps." 

Iran says it rejects nuclear weapons as un-Islamic; Israel says it could launch airstrikes to prevent Iran from having the capability of making an atomic bomb, and that negotiations with Iran are a waste of time. 

So today both the P5+1 and Iran tried to spin the non-negative result of their "engagement," without yielding from their well-known positions.

"We had an intense and tough exchange of views," said Michael Mann, spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who represents the P5+1 at the talks.

"There was engagement," said Mr. Mann. "We'll have to wait and see tomorrow, I think, whether they come back with a positive attitude towards our proposals."

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