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Tougher U.S. Line Might Have Precluded Nuclear Deal With Iran: Envoys

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, shown on Thursday, credited China and Singapore with curbing purchases of oil from Iran as the Obama administration faced a legal deadline for determining whether to exclude the nations from financial penalties targeting state clients of the Middle Eastern nation’s petroleum industry (AP Photo/Haraz Ghanbar). U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, shown on Thursday, credited China and Singapore with curbing purchases of oil from Iran as the Obama administration faced a legal deadline for determining whether to exclude the nations from financial penalties targeting state clients of the Middle Eastern nation’s petroleum industry (AP Photo/Haraz Ghanbar).

The latest multilateral gathering on Iran's disputed nuclear efforts might have failed to yield a bargain due in part to a less flexible posture assumed by the Obama administration, al-Monitor on Wednesday quoted sources from participating governments as saying (see GSN, June 27).

Iranian negotiators were reportedly ready to talk about a potential halt to their nation's production of 20 percent-refined uranium when they met in Moscow on June 18 and 19 with counterparts from China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States. Washington and allied governments fear the higher-level enrichment -- ostensibly intended to fuel a medical reactor -- could enable faster preparation of weapon-grade material with an enrichment level of roughly 90 percent; Tehran insists its nuclear program has no military component.

The position assumed by the Western governments, though, would have required Tehran to also relinquish more than 220 pounds of stored 20-percent material and shutter the underground Qum enrichment plant. The position reflected a more rigid stance adopted by Washington following two prior sets of discussions in April and May, according to an assessment by certain members of the negotiating group comprising the five permanent U.N. Security Council member nations and Germany.

“Earlier, the U.S. had implied that they were ready to address the three [P-5+1] demands … separately,” one document states. “However, this position had changed” by last week's meeting, when Washington said “the three demands should be treated inseparably, as a package.”

Washington might have altered its posture because it believed senior Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili to have communicated "stubbornness," according to a representative for one of the six world powers. Other contributing issues could encompass internal matters of governance, Western doubts about Iran's commitment to pursuing a compromise, and Israel's opposition to a limited bargain with a potential to curb additional punitive financial steps against Tehran, al-Monitor reported.

In addition, all six powers considered Iran's draft agreement to be unreasonable. The plan included states' acceptance of Iran's legal authority to conduct uranium enrichment as a member state to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and Tehran's pledge to work with the U.N. nuclear watchdog in return for being freed from U.N. and national economic penalties.

Russian envoys suggested Iranian delegates had "arrived well prepared and presented a more detailed proposal … compared to previous rounds.” Still, “there was no movement towards a compromise," they indicated.

"It was clear that the [P-5+1] package was not acceptable to Iran,” the Russian officials said, adding calls by Tehran for technical exchanges were “interpreted as an Iranian attempt to resolve the issue, but also to buy more time."

Lower-ranking representatives of the sides are scheduled on July 3 to confer in Istanbul, Turkey (Rozen/Slavin, al-Monitor, June 27).

"Experts will meet in Istanbul shortly to discuss further steps in this aspect, as well as technical and juridical issues. I hope that this problem will be solved positively," ITAR-Tass quoted Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi as saying on Wednesday.

"We should be patient because this issue cannot be resolved at once," Salehi said. "The parties are moving in a right direction" following last week's meeting, he added (ITAR-Tass, June 27).

"Both sides tend to resolve the issue (Iran's nuclear energy case) in a way that will yield win-win results," he added in a remark reported by Iran's Fars News Agency (Fars News Agency I, June 28).

Meanwhile, the Iranian nuclear standoff came up for discussion on Wednesday during talks between President Obama and UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahayan, Reuters reported (Laura MacInnis, Reuters I, June 27).

The leaders "called upon Iran to meet its international obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and relevant United Nations Security Council and International Atomic Energy Agency Board of Governors resolutions," according to a UAE-U.S. communication (White House release, June 27).

Separately, the atomic dispute was the primary subject of concern at a Wednesday session of the U.S.-Israeli Defense Policy Advisory Group, the Jerusalem Post reported. Worries in Tel Aviv over the security of Syria's chemical warfare stockpile also came up at the event (see GSN, June 26; Yaakov Katz, Jerusalem Post, June 27).

Elsewhere, Iran's military over the past several months has displayed a decrease in aggression in the Persian Gulf, the Associated Press quoted U.S. Navy head of naval operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert as saying on Wednesday.

"Things have been, relatively speaking, quiet," Greenert said, adding Iran's navy has behaved in accordance with international standards and acted in a "professional and courteous" manner toward U.S. warships.

Iran's Revolutionary Guard has historically acted more aggressively than the country's formal navy, according to AP.  The elite force has in previous instances dispatched small, high-speed vessels or other assets inappropriately near U.S. boats, according to Greenert.

"Frankly, that hasn't happened recently," the officer added (Robert Burns, Associated Press I/San Francisco Chronicle, June 27).

Major governments should avoid "unconstructive measures" undermining the atomic dialogue, Reuters quoted Jalili as saying in a Thursday communication to European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

"Continuing successful talks is only possible when it is in the framework of cooperation," Jalili told Ashton in written remarks quoted by Iranian media (Reuters II, June 28).

A high-level EU insider on Wednesday affirmed plans by the 27-nation bloc to enforce as of Sunday a "complete termination" of Iranian petroleum purchases as well as insurance and re-insurance deals for related cargo, Agence France-Presse reported.

The unidentified speaker said the "the sanctions are an important tool" for addressing global concerns over Iranian atomic efforts.

Obtaining exceptions from the new restrictions was a goal through last week for certain nations highly reliant on Iran's petroleum and insurance arrangements, the insider said without identifying the governments.

"We understand the impact on partners, including strategic partners, but it was not possible to make exceptions," the EU worker said. "We do not believe it would be appropriate to soften sanctions."

"As of July 1, shipowners and countries importing Iranian oil will have to go elsewhere, find alternatives," he stated. "Reducing oil imports (from Iran) would also reduce insurance" (Agence France-Presse/Economic Times, June 27).

The Obama administration is legally required on Thursday to finalize exclusions for China or other governments from unilateral financial penalties against importers of Iranian petroleum, CNN reported.

To date, it has temporarily exempted 17 nations plus Taiwan from the punitive measures (Jamie Crawford, CNN, June 28). China and Singapore, though, remain vulnerable to the penalties.

It was unclear as of press time whether the United States would exempt either nation from the penalties. Insiders, though, on Thursday said both countries appeared set to receive exclusions, Reuters reported (Gardner/Mohammed, Reuters III, June 28).

Both governments have reduced petroleum imports from Iran, AP quoted U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as saying on Thursday. Still, she did not specify whether either nation would receive an exclusion from the financial penalties.

"We are actively working this issue," the top U.S. diplomat said.

"China and Singapore both share our goals of preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, and they appreciate that international sanctions and the pressure that these sanctions have brought to bear on the Iranian economy have been a key aspect of our dual-track policy over the years."

"Both countries have announced steps that they have taken already in their own national interest to move on this important matter, and we're continuing to discuss and gather additional data on the implications of those steps," Clinton stated (Matthew Lee, Associated Press II/Boston Globe, June 28).

Daily Iranian petroleum sales to countries in Asia dropped by more than 250,000 containers from January to May, a decrease of 18 percent, Reuters on Thursday quoted the International Energy Agency as stating (Sheldrick/Tsukimori, Reuters IV, June 28).

Iranian National Oil head Ahmad Qalebani said his country would bolster unrefined petroleum transfers to other nations by nearly 30 percent before 2016, Fars News reported on Wednesday (Fars News Agency II, June 27).

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