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Iran nuclear talks: limited progress as both sides send military 'messages'

Technical talks today in Istanbul ended with agreement to meet again. The talks came against a show of force by both Iran and the United States.

By Staff writer / July 3, 2012

Istanbul, Turkey

In a sealed-off conference room at an unpublicized Istanbul hotel, experts from Iran and world powers met today for a critical "technical meeting" on Iran's nuclear program. Out of the media spotlight, specialists from both sides met to narrow the chasm between competing proposals, the fourth and lowest-level installment of a series of talks this year aimed at curbing Iran's controversial nuclear efforts. 

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Progress here will determine whether the diplomatic track eventually resumes at a high political level, or whether the differences are so great that negotiations fail altogether – over Iran's level of uranium enrichment, safeguard measures to prevent any move toward a nuclear weapon, and the quid pro quo expected by Iran of relief from crippling sanctions that tightened over the weekend.

It was not clear if experts narrowed the gap while exploring technical details. Agreement was reached, near midnight, for a meeting in the near future of top negotiators' political deputies, diplomats close to the talks said. That meeting will focus on charting next steps and continuing discussions that in the one-day talks only addressed part of the proposal put to Iran last May.

The risks of failure were abundantly clear in military "messages" sent by both sides: Iran launched a series of medium-range missiles today in the midst of a three-day exercise; and the US was reported to have made "significant" military reinforcements in the Persian Gulf.

"Sometimes I think that neither side understands each other," said one Iranian official close to the talks. Western officials often expressed similar sentiments during previous rounds in Istanbul, Baghdad, and Moscow

"The atmosphere is quite mixed," the Iranian official told the Monitor about the meeting. "Both sides want to show that the talks have some outcomes, even if it is [just] to set a date and venue for the next expert meeting." 

'Opening salvos'

This Istanbul meeting was agreed to during high-level political negotiations in Moscow last month between the EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who represented the P5+1 group (comprised of the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany), and Saeed Jalili, Iran's top nuclear negotiator.


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