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Iran Meeting Details Still Undecided, Russia Says

Senior Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, shown in January 2011 on the second day of discussions between Iran and six world powers in Istanbul, Turkey. A top Russian diplomat on Monday said the timing and location had not been finalized for a planned new round of talks between the governments (AP Photo/Salih Zeki Fazlioglu). Senior Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, shown in January 2011 on the second day of discussions between Iran and six world powers in Istanbul, Turkey. A top Russian diplomat on Monday said the timing and location had not been finalized for a planned new round of talks between the governments (AP Photo/Salih Zeki Fazlioglu).

It is still unclear when and where six world powers would convene a planned meeting with Iran to discuss the Persian Gulf regional power's disputed atomic efforts, Russia said on Monday (see GSN, April 2).

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov cast doubt on the session's timing and location just days after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said it would take place on April 13 and 14 in Istanbul, Turkey, Agence France-Presse reported.

"The date and the place of the meeting have not been definitively set," Ryabkov told Interfax. "The meeting could take place on April 13 or 14 or in the following days."

The gathering would mark Iran's first formal meeting since early 2011 with Germany and permanent U.N. Security Council member nations China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States (see GSN, Jan. 24, 2011). Washington and its allies suspect Iran's nuclear program is geared toward development of a weapons capability; Tehran insists its nuclear program is strictly peaceful.

"The situation is very complicated and could get worse. We can't wait any more. These negotiations are extremely important," Ryabkov said.

The Russian diplomat criticized proponents of using armed action against Iranian atomic sites in the event that dialogue fails to defuse the nuclear standoff peacefully.

"Unfortunately there are hotheads, notably in Israel, who no longer believe in the possibility of getting to an agreement with Iran in the framework ... (of the talks) and talk about the possibility of resorting to force," he said. "This is unacceptable and it must stop. It is impossible to get concessions from Iran with threats or sanctions."

Washington said it is up to Tehran to accept specifics for the gathering proposed by the six negotiating powers.

"It's simply been interesting to us that we are getting different signals out of Iran as to whether all of this is locked down," U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said. "But we are ready if they are ready at that date and venue."

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi last week suggested the powers would meet on April 13, and he expressed preference for Istanbul as a host site (see GSN, March 28).

Still, the Turkish city's role in the talks remained unverified, according to EU government personnel in Brussels, Belgium.

"The talks are scheduled to start late on the 13th and will be held primarily on the 14th," one EU envoy said. The official said Istanbul is  "very likely" to host the discussions, but participants had yet to achieve complete consensus (Agence France-Presse I/Google News, April 2).

The secretary of Iran's powerful Expediency Council on Monday called the meeting to instead take place in either the capitals of Iraq, Lebanon or Syria, the nation's Fars News Agency reported.

"Given the fact that our friends in Turkey have failed to fulfill some of our agreements, the talks between Iran and the [P-5+1] had better be held in another friendly country," Mohsen Rezai said amid frosty relations between Iran and Turkey.

"Offering Istanbul as the venue for the upcoming talks with the [P-5+1] might give this wrong impression to the opposite side that Iran has grown weak and is in weak conditions, so selecting a venue for the talks needs to be given more thought so that they don't get the (wrong) impression that Istanbul is our only option," Rezai said

"Hence, Baghdad, Damascus and Beirut are more suitable than Istanbul for holding talks (with the world powers)," he said (Fars News Agency, April 2).

"Western officials are aware that Iranian leaders are against war, but they should know that Iran will not succumb to any international pressure. Negotiation is the only option," Ynetnews.com quoted the official as saying (Dudi Cohen, Ynetnews.com, April 2).

Turkey is prepared to accommodate the nuclear discussions, Fars News quoted the nation's envoy to Iran as saying.

"As far as Turkey's hosting is concerned, everything depends on Iran-[P-5+1] agreement and those are the two sides who should announce their agreement and inclination to Turkey's hosting," Ambassador Umit Yardim stated (Fars News Agency).

Iran has overcome the effects of Western measures targeting its petroleum operations, Oil Minister Rostam Qasemi said on Monday in remarks reported by the country's Press TV.

The United States late last year enact enabling possible penalties against financial institutions in countries that buy Iranian oil (see GSN, Jan. 3). Separately, the European Union has adopted plans for prohibiting petroleum purchases from Iran within months (see GSN, Feb. 10).

“Sanctions against Iran's oil sector have failed and will not block the progress and development of the industry,” Qasemi said (Press TV I, April 2).

“Today, (Iran’s) adversaries consider the restrictions on Iran's oil industry as ‘tough sanctions,’ but based on domestic capabilities, I confidently say that the oil industry has bade farewell to the embargoes,” he added in comments reported by the nation's Petroenergy Information Network (Petroenergy Information Network, April 2).

China would maintain purchases of unrefined petroleum from Iran, despite U.S. penalties aimed at pressuring countries to curb the acquisitions, Press TV quoted a high-level Chinese power administrator as saying on Sunday.

China would not allow "some country" to sway its policies, Chinese National Development and Reform Commission Vice Chairman Zhang Guobao said (Press TV II, April 2).

Former Iranian President Ali Akbar Rafsanjani has called on his government to bolster relations with neighboring Saudi Arabia, which has communicated willingness to increase petroleum output amid increasing restrictions on Iranian exports (see GSN, March 14).

"If we had good relations with Saudi Arabia, would the West have been able to impose sanctions (on Iran's oil)?" AFP on Tuesday quoted Rafsanjani as saying in the Iranian International Studies Journal.

"Only Saudi Arabia could fill the void left by Iran. (All they need do is) produce oil within their OPEC quota, and then no one would be able to harass us," he added, referring to the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.

Tehran should re-establish U.S. ties severed in Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution, the former leader added, reaffirming a previously stated position.

"If we negotiate with them (other world powers: Europe, China and Russia), why should we not talk with America?" Rafsanjani asked (Agence France-Presse II/Google News, April 3).

The Iranian atomic standoff was one focus of a Monday discussion between U.S. Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman and Indian Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai, the Economic Times.

U.S. punitive measures against Iran arose during the talks as a source of alarm for New Delhi. India relies on Iran for 10-12 percent of its petroleum supply, and Washington has not out ruled the country as a potential target of unilateral penalties (see GSN, March 21).

"Recently, the press has asserted that our two countries have divergent views on Iran. Let me correct the record. Our countries share the same fundamental goals: preserving regional stability and preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon," Sherman stated.

"Achieving these goals will require making hard choices. We recognize India's historical linkages with Iran and Persian culture and understand its interest in developing Iran as a gateway to Afghanistan and Central Asia," the U.S. official said.

The United States wants to achieve "a diplomatic resolution" to the atomic dispute, but it has "made clear publicly and privately that we believe there is time and space for diplomacy, though that time is not unlimited," she said.

The U.S. diplomat sought to alleviate Indian consternation over possible repercussions from penalties targeting Iran. She also called on the South Asian state to assist in pushing Iran to address questions on its atomic efforts (Economic Times, April 2).

Meanwhile, specialists have voiced conflicting opinions on the probability of Iran responding to a potential Israeli armed campaign by lashing out against the United States and additional bystanders with no direct involvement, the Washington Times reported on Monday. Such a wide-ranging counterstrike could prompt a significant U.S. reaction and lessen global support for Iran following a potential armed incursion, experts suggested.

Still, President Obama's reaction to any Iranian aggression is far from certain, given the election-year needs to avoid both communications of weakness as well as major petroleum market fluctuations.

“There’s a possibility that we would do nothing, aside from any immediate self-defense of any forces, because Obama would be very frustrated by such an Israeli decision and would want to underscore that it was not an American decision -- and one way to prove that is to take a couple hits and don’t retaliate,” said Michael O’Hanlon, a Brookings Institution senior fellow (Ben Birnbaum, Washington Times, April 2).

A high-level officer with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard on Tuesday reportedly said his nation's response to an attack on its territory could reach the United States, according to Reuters.

"In the face of any attack, we will have a crushing response. In that case, we will not only act in the boundaries of the Middle East and the Persian Gulf, no place in America will be safe from our attacks," an Iranian newspaper quoted Massoud Jazayeri as saying. He said, though, that Iran would not instigate any assault (Reuters, April 3).

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