Iran Nuclear Negotiations Seem To Hit Familiar Wall
There were few signs of progress Friday as negotiators for Iran and six world powers met in Turkey to resolve concerns over Tehran's nuclear program.
International delegations led by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton met with the Iranian contingent, led by chief negotiator Said Jalili, at an imposing Ottoman palace turned hotel on the banks of the Bosphorus in Istanbul. By the time the talks broke for lunch — and Friday prayers — there was no sign that Iran had budged from its refusal to consider suspending its uranium-enrichment program.
International leaders fear Tehran is covertly attempting to master nuclear weapons technology, which Iran has repeatedly denied.
"Compared to the Geneva talks, the negotiations in Istanbul are being held in a more positive way," Iranian delegate Abolfazl Zohrevand said, referring to talks in the Swiss city that ended last month with an agreement on nothing more than to meet again in Turkey. "There are good signs that the two sides will make progress."
The six powers — China, Britain, France, Russia, the United States and Germany — hope to nudge Iran toward acknowledging the need to reduce worries that it might turn its enrichment program to making weapons.
Tehran has insisted that it wants only to make nuclear fuel. But concerns have grown because its uranium enrichment program could also make fissile warhead material, because of its nuclear secrecy and also because the Islamic nation refuses to cooperate with attempts to investigate suspicions that it ran experiments related to making nuclear weapons.
While the six would like to kick-start talks focused at freezing Iran's uranium enrichment program, Tehran has repeatedly said this activity is not up for discussion. Instead, Iranian officials are pushing an agenda that covers just about everything except its nuclear program: global disarmament, Israel's suspected nuclear arsenal, and Tehran's concerns about U.S. military bases in Iraq and elsewhere.
"We want to discuss the fundamental problems of global politics at Istanbul talks," Jalili said. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad suggested any push to restrict the meeting to Iran's nuclear program would fail.
Zohrevand told The Associated Press that compromise by Iran's negotiation partners was moving the talks forward.
"They didn't get what they had hoped to get from pressure and sanctions," he said. "They are showing some flexibility. This is helping both sides to be optimistic."
Tehran is under four sets of U.N. Security Council sanctions for refusing to cease enrichment and other activities that could be used to make nuclear weapons, and Iran came to the table warning that it was in no mood to compromise.
"Resolutions, sanctions, threats, computer virus nor even a military attack will stop uranium enrichment in Iran," Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency, told Iranian state TV.
He was alluding to U.N. sanctions imposed on Iran, apparent damage to the enrichment program due to the Stuxnet malware virus — thought to have been created by Israel or the U.S. — and threats of possible military action by Israel or the U.S. if Iran remains defiant.
But British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the Iranians must "show in these negotiations that they are prepared to discuss the whole of their nuclear program."
The diplomat said EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton would urge the Iranian side in her opening address to recognize the need to discuss international concerns about Iran's nuclear program.
Ashton, he said, would renew a 2008 offer providing Iran technical and logistical support for peaceful nuclear activities as well as trade and other incentives in exchange for its willingness to focus on its atomic program.
But analysts say that in the absence of progress in Istanbul, even more sanctions on Iran may be sought.
NPR's Peter Kenyon reported from Istanbul for this story, which contains material from The Associated Press Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.