Iran nuclear talks round ends with big setbacks
By GEORGE JAHN
the associated press | May 17,2014
Iran’s deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi arrives for a press briefing for Iranian journalists after the closed-door nuclear talks at the International Center in Vienna, Austria, Friday. Talks between Iran and six world powers hit a major snag Friday over the future size of a nuclear program that Tehran says it needs to expand to fuel atomic reactors, but which the U.S. fears could be used to make nuclear weapons.
VIENNA — Iran nuclear talks stalled Friday, casting a shadow on earlier advances and denting hopes that Tehran and six world powers will meet a July 20 target date for a deal meant to curb Iran’s atomic program while ending sanctions on the Islamic Republic.
Deputy Iranian Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi acknowledged the meeting made “no progress” in its ambitious goal of starting to draft an agreement meant to ease a decade of Western distrust about Tehran’s nuclear agenda in exchange for sanctions relief.
In that, “we failed,” he told reporters. But while saying he was disappointed, he insisted that the result of the three-day talks that ended Friday represented no more than a setback at this point in continuing attempts to reach a deal.
A senior U.S. official — who demanded anonymity under U.S. briefing rules — said there was “great difficulty” in trying to move toward common positions and spoke of “significant” differences. Both Araghchi and the official said further meetings were planned in June, but no dates were announced.
The failure to advance diminished a sense of optimism that had been growing since talks began Feb. 18 on a comprehensive deal. But while diplomats had spoken of some progress before the three-day round that ended Friday, they had also warned of difficult talks ahead on some issues, such as Iran’s enrichment program.
Iran says it has no interest in nuclear arms, and wants to enrich only to make reactor fuel. But because the technology can also create weapons-grade uranium for warheads depending on the level of enrichment, Washington and its allies want strict constraints on its size and scope.
The talks are being closely watched by Israel for signs that Tehran is using them as a cover while trying to reach the ability to make a nuclear weapon — something the Jewish state has vowed to prevent by any means, including force.
While saying diplomacy is the best path, Washington has said all options remain on the table to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. In Jerusalem Friday, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told Israeli leaders that the U.S. “will do what we must” to ensure that goal.
Araghchi said that differences remained on more than a dozen issues and a Western official with detailed knowledge of the talks said that enrichment was among the most divisive topic.
The official declined to go into the specifics of what separated the two sides on enrichment and demanded anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to discuss the confidential talks.
But general differences have long been known. Iran’s nuclear chief, Ali Akbar Salehi, has said publicly that Tehran needs up to 100,000 centrifuges — the enriching machines — for a future nuclear network.
That’s about five times as many as the centrifuges Iran now has standing but idle, 10 times that of the machines actually enriching — and much more than the few thousand that diplomats say the U.S. and its allies are prepared to allow.
Related differences focus on length of constraints on enrichment and other nuclear activities that could be proliferation-relevant. The diplomats say the U.S. and other Western countries want decade-long limits, whereas Tehran is pushing only for a few years before all restrictions are lifted.