Iran nu­clear talks break down with­out an agree­ment

U.S., E.U. of­fi­cials say six pow­ers at ta­ble are aligned, aren’t budg­ing

The Washington Post Sunday - - THE WORLD - BY JOBY WAR­RICK war­rickj@wash­ Spe­cial cor­re­spon­dent Gul Tuy­suz con­trib­uted to this re­port.

Is­tan­bul — Diplo­matic ef­forts to end the eight-year-old im­passe over Iran’s nu­clear pro­gram ran aground Satur­day af­ter Ira­nian of­fi­cials re­fused to bar­gain with the United States and other world pow­ers un­less they first agreed to con­di­tions in­clud­ing an im­me­di­ate halt to eco­nomic sanc­tions.

The stand­off, played out over two days in­side a pic­turesque palace on the shores of the Bosporus, ended with du­el­ing diplo­matic state­ments and deep­en­ing pes­simism about prospects for solv­ing one of the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s most vex­ing se­cu­rity chal­lenges.

There was no dis­cus­sion of fur­ther talks in the near fu­ture.

“ This is not the con­clu­sion I had hoped for,” Cather­ine Ash­ton, the Euro­pean Union’s for­eignchief, said af­ter the talks ended shortly past noon. She ac­knowl­edged that ne­go­tia­tors never came close to tack­ling the core is­sues, such as Iran’s ura­nium en­rich­ment pro­gram, be­cause of Iran’s in­sis­tence on con­ces­sions from theWest.

“ These pre­con­di­tions are not a way to pro­ceed,” Ash­ton said.

U.S. and Euro­pean of­fi­cials said, how­ever, they were en­cour­aged by the co­he­sion shown by the six coun­tries on the other side of the ne­go­ti­at­ing ta­ble. Those coun­tries — the United States, Rus­sia, China, Bri­tain, France and Ger­many — have of­ten dis­agreed on Iran, but the group was in lock step in their op­po­si­tion to Iran’s pro­posed con­di­tions, ac­cord­ing to U.S. and E.U. of­fi­cials who par­tic­i­pated in the talks.

The group’s una­nim­ity could en­hance prospects for a broad in­ter­na­tional agree­ment on fu­ture sanc­tions or other puni­tive mea­sures to force con­ces­sions from Iran in the fu­ture, the of­fi­cials said.

“ The Ira­ni­ans are tough ne­go­tia­tors, and their aim was to test for splits [among the six na­tions] and to see if they could ex­tract con­ces­sions on their pre­con­di­tions,” said a se­nior Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial who par­tic­i­pated in the meet­ings. “ They left with a pretty clear im­pres­sion of the unity of this group.”

‘Door re­mains open’

In 2002, Ira­nian dis­si­dents dis­closed the ex­is­tence of a mas­sive ura­nium en­rich­ment plant that Iran was se­cretly con­struct­ing. It was the first of a se­ries of rev­e­la­tions that raised ques­tions about Iran’s pos­si­ble pur­suit of a nu­clear bomb.

Ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween Iran and the six world pow­ers re­sumed last month in Geneva af­ter a pause of more than a year. In those talks, Iran agreed to a sec­ond round of meet­ings in Is­tan­bul, rais­ing hopes that it might be ready to con­sider lim­its on its nu­clear pro­gram.

Western di­plo­mats ar­rived in Is­tan­bul with a list of what they called “prac­ti­cal steps” that Iran could adopt to prove that its nu­clear in­ten­tions are peace­ful. Among them was a re­vamped ver­sion of last year’s Tehran Re­search Re­ac­tor pro­posal, in which France and Rus­sia agreed to pro­vide Iran with much-needed fuel rods for a med­i­cal re­search re­ac­tor if Iran would part with a large chunk of its stock­pile of en­riched ura­nium. Such a deal would have left Iran with less than the min­i­mum amount of nu­clear fuel needed to make a sin­gle atomic bomb.

But Iran opened the talks on a jar­ring note, in­sist­ing it would not dis­cuss any of the mea­sures un­til Western pow­ers agreed to end all eco­nomic sanc­tions and for­mally rec­og­nize Iran’s right to de­velop a wide range of nu­clear tech­nolo­gies, in­clud­ing ura­nium en­rich­ment. Iran has in­sisted that it has no plans to make atomic weapons.

Af­ter a frus­trat­ing start, the talks de­volved into what one U.S. of­fi­cial de­scribed as “cir­cu­lar dis­cus­sions” in­ter­rupted by lengthy breaks. At one point Fri­day, the Ira­nian del­e­ga­tion left the ne­go­ti­a­tions for Fri­day prayers fol­lowed by a lunch.

After­ward, chief Ira­nian negotiator Saeed Jalili stayed away for sev­eral more hours, com­plain­ing that he had a headache.

Af­ter the talks broke Satur­day, Jalili spoke to re­porters for nearly an hour, lash­ing out at Western pow­ers for in­sist­ing on curbs for Iran’s nu­clear pro­gram while sit­ting on large stock­piles of nu­clear weapons. But he stopped short of con­ced­ing that diplo­macy had reached an im­passe.

“We are al­ways open to di­a­logue,” he said.

The United States and the E.U. also held open the pos­si­bil­ity of fu­ture talks but made clear that the next move is Iran’s.

“ The door re­mains open,” Ash­ton said. “ The choice re­mains in

Iran’s hands.”

In­creased iso­la­tion

While ex­pec­ta­tions for the Is­tan­bul meet­ing had been low, di­plo­mats and some se­cu­rity an­a­lysts hailed the una­nim­ity of the six world pow­ers as a sig­nif­i­cant achieve­ment and one that bodes well for the fu­ture.

Ge­orge Perkovich, di­rec­tor of the non­pro­lif­er­a­tion pro­gram at the Carnegie En­dow­ment for In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies, a Washington non­profit group, said the talks had re­sulted in Iran “fur­ther iso­lat­ing it­self and los­ing sup­port.”

“It had hoped to turn east­ward and demon­strate that China, In­dia and oth­ers in the East would de­fend it against sanc­tions,” Perkovich said. “ That ef­fort failed, so Iran has nowhere else to turn.”

Iran’s in­creased iso­la­tion comes at a time when the coun­try is suf­fer­ing eco­nom­i­cally from the col­lec­tive pres­sure of four rounds of U.N. sanc­tions. Iran’s ura­nium en­rich­ment pro­gram has also suf­fered sig­nif­i­cant set­backs, in­clud­ing a com­puter virus that dam­aged hun­dreds of cen­trifuges, U.S. of­fi­cials have con­firmed.

“Clearly there are signs that Iran’s nu­clear pro­gram has slowed,” said the se­nior Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial, who spoke on the con­di­tion of anonymity to dis­cuss de­tails of the talks. “I think there is time and space for diplo­macy.”

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