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Iran Nuclear Talks Appear Stuck

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and chief Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili meet ahead of talks Monday on Iran's atomic operations on Monday in Moscow. Sources said Iran and six world powers remained far apart in efforts to resolve longstanding concerns that Tehran is seeking a nuclear-weapon capability (AP Photo/Kirill Kudryavtsev). European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and chief Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili meet ahead of talks Monday on Iran's atomic operations on Monday in Moscow. Sources said Iran and six world powers remained far apart in efforts to resolve longstanding concerns that Tehran is seeking a nuclear-weapon capability (AP Photo/Kirill Kudryavtsev).

Delegates from Iran and six leading nations in talks on Monday did not appear to make notable headway toward resolving the deadlock over contested Iranian atomic activities, Reuters reported (see GSN, June 15).

Moscow is hosting two days of talks that are the latest attempt to diplomatically address longstanding fears that Iran's nuclear programs is aimed at producing a weapons capability. Tehran says its atomic operations are intended solely for peaceful purposes such as production of energy and medical isotopes.

"We had an intense and tough exchange of views," said Michael Mann, spokesman for European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

"The main stumbling block is that the sides' positions are rather difficult and tough to reconcile," said Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov after the first day of discussions concluded. The other participating nations are China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

An envoy from Iran also offered a downbeat message: "Up to now the environment is not positive at all."

Issue specialists have said the session is not expected to produce a significant advance in the atomic impasse. This week's talks follow meetings this spring in Turkey and Iraq.

"If Iran remains unwilling to take the opportunities these talks present, it will face continuing and intensified pressure and isolation," according to an official from a Western nation.

Tehran has already been hit with four U.N. Security Council sanctions resolutions and a host of unilateral measures from the United States and other nations. New U.S. and EU penalties are to take effect on July 1 (Pawlak/Torbati, Reuters, June 18).

Iran at the Monday talks took a harder stand on the necessity of being freed from sanctions targeting its petroleum operations and other sectors, the Associated Press reported. Top atomic envoy Saeed Jalili cited "comprehensive sanctions relief" among his nation's demands if serious talks are to proceed, according to diplomatic sources (Jahn/Isachenkov, Associated Press I/Yahoo!News, June 18).

There are concerns that failure to make progress in Moscow could lead to another breakdown in the diplomatic process, Agence France-Presse reported. The Iranian source suggested the second day of the talks might not even be necessary.

Iran has held to its right as a member of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes.

"If this demand isn't recognized, the negotiations are certainly headed for failure," the Iranian Republic News Agency quoted an Iranian official in Moscow as saying (Agence France-Presse I/Google News, June 18).

Previous reports have indicated that the powers are looking for a number of concessions from Iran, including shuttering of the Qum uranium enrichment plant and a halt to refinement of uranium to 20 percent. In turn, they would provide Iran with medical reactor fuel and access to nonmilitary air transit equipment.

Tehran has said it needs the higher-enriched material for an isotope-producing reactor in Tehran, but outside nations fear the process is a key step toward production of weapon-usable uranium, which has an enrichment level of about 90 percent.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a web posting suggested that a compromise on the matter was possible.

"From the beginning the Islamic Republic has stated that if European countries provided 20 percent enriched fuel for Iran, it would not enrich to this level," Ahmadinejad said.

However, Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has the final say on such matters, and it was not immediately known if he supported Ahmadinejad's stated position. In addition, top Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili said the powers are not offering enough to produce a deal on the matter.

The new talks come two weeks ahead of the enactment of new penalties against Iran, including an embargo on Iranian oil by EU states.

Israel, meanwhile, continues to hold out the use of force against its longtime foe. Tel Aviv "could find itself facing the dilemma of 'a bomb, or to bomb'" if the diplomatic impasse with Iran persists, Israeli Vice Prime Minister Moshe Yaalon said on Sunday.

"Should that be the choice, then bombing (Iran) is preferable to a bomb (in Iran's hands)," he said. "I hope we do not face that dilemma" (Pawlak/Torbati, Reuters).

The Russian newspaper Kommersant reported on Monday that the six powers would suggest a compromise under which Iran could refine uranium up to 5 percent at its main Natanz enrichment plant, according to AFP. Such material could be used to power reactors while reducing concerns about potential weaponization.

The proposal would still call for Tehran to halt operations at the subterranean Qum facility or to completely close it down, according to the report.

A deal would lead to a measured rollback of economic penalties against Iran.

Washington, though, is said to object to one aspect of the plan that would enable Iran to use its current stock of 20 percent enriched uranium to produce fuel rods for powering the Tehran medical research reactor (Agence France-Presse II/Now Lebanon, June 18).

The outcome of this week's meeting would not affect the European Union's intention to initiate its oil embargo on July 1, the London Guardian reported on Monday.

"What is on the table here is what was on" at last month's talks in Baghdad, said Michael Mann, a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who organizes the talks on behalf of the six powers (Julian Borger, London Guardian I, June 18).

A group of 44 U.S. senators from both parties on Friday called for the talks to be halted if Iran fails to accept three measures aimed at curbing its nuclear activities, Foreign Policy reported.

Those "absolute minimum" steps were closing down the Qum plant, forgoing any uranium refinement above 5 percent and relinquishing Iran's entire stock of higher-enriched material.

"It is past time for the Iranians to take the concrete steps that would reassure the world that their nuclear program is, as they claim, exclusively peaceful," wrote the senators in a letter to President Obama. "Absent these steps, we must conclude that Tehran is using the talks as a cover to buy time as it continues to advance toward nuclear weapons capability. We know that you share our conviction that allowing Iran to gain this capability is unacceptable" (Josh Rogin, Foreign Policy, June 15).

Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney on Saturday blasted Obama for failing to adequately support Israel, AP reported.

"I think, by and large, you can just look at the things the president has done and do the opposite," Romney said. "He's almost sounded like he's more frightened that Israel might take military action than he's concerned that Iran might become nuclear" (Kasie Hunt, Associated Press II/Yahoo!News, June 16).

Iran today holds sufficient amounts of uranium that, once enriched, could allow for four or more nuclear weapons, the New York Times reported. The nation is continuing to push forward with production of additional higher-enriched material (William Broad, New York Times, June 14).

The nation's growing stockpile of material enriched close to 20 percent would be sufficient -- again assuming additional refinement -- to produce a nuclear weapon by early 2013, the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security said on Friday. A relatively limited broadening of that capacity could move up that schedule to late this year, according to an ISIS analysis. The nation would need "many additional months" to manufacture a sufficient amount of uranium for another bomb (Institute for Science and International Security release, June 15).

Separately, Iran on Sunday said it had detained roughly 20 people suspected of being connected to a series of attacks on the nation's atomic scientists in recent years, AP reported.

There have been no fewer than five assassinations dating to 2010, AP reported. Previous reports have put the number of deaths at four. Tehran has blamed Israel and the United States for the killings (Associated Press III/Washington Times, June 17).

Records from probes into a February series of bomb strikes against Israeli envoys in India, Thailand and Georgia, along with information from police and other officials, indicate that the culprits were Iranian, the Guardian reported on Sunday.

"The question is not was this Iran-backed or Iran-organized but who in Iran was running all this," according to one source from a Western nation (Jason Burke, London Guardian II, June 17).

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