EU’s Ashton Delays Decision on Next Round of Iran Talks

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton spoke with Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator and failed to set a date for the next round of talks aimed at having Iran give up elements of its nuclear program.

The two officials agreed to talk again “after further reflection at the end of the month,” according to an e-mailed statement yesterday from Ashton’s office.

The two negotiators last met June 20 and, citing lack of progress, directed lower-level officials to look for ways to advance the talks. Those discussions were held and her remarks indicated they made little, if any, progress.

“The gap remains wide,” a U.S. officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the talks were private. Ashton delivered a “tough message” to Iranian negotiator Saeed Jalili, the official said by e-mail.

Iran needs to respond with greater seriousness and purpose,” the U.S. official said, adding that sanctions pressure will continue to increase.

During the telephone call with Jalili, “I impressed the need for Iran now to address the issues we have raised in order to build confidence,” Ashton said in her statement.

Six world powers -- the U.S., Russia, China, France, Germany and the U.K -- are pressing Iran on its nuclear program, which the U.S. and Israel say may be used to make atomic weapons. The Tehran government says its activities are for civilian power and medical purposes only.

Uranium Enrichment

A central issue in the negotiations is whether Iran will stop producing 20 percent enriched uranium, a level of purity a step short of bomb grade, and move current stockpiles out of the country to show that it isn’t seeking the capability to produce nuclear weapons.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta Aug. 1 that time is “running out” for a peaceful resolution of the stand-off with Iran over nuclear development. Israel wants all of Iran’s uranium-enrichment activities halted.

“Diplomacy is still an option for resolving this issue,” according to the U.S. official who commented on Ashton’s call. “The choice is Iran’s and, as it reflects over Ramadan, it should decide to engage constructively when Ashton and Jalili next speak.”

U.S.-led sanctions against Iran are costing OPEC’s third- largest producer $133 million a day in lost sales without raising global crude prices.

Oil Shipments

Shipments from Iran have plunged by 1.2 million barrels a day, or 52 percent, since the sanctions banning the purchase, transport, financing and insuring of Iranian crude began July 1, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Annualized, that would cost President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s country about $48 billion in revenue, equivalent to 10 percent of its economy.

U.S. and EU sanctions have a global reach, thwarting financial transactions with Iran’s state entities and blocking insurance for oil shipments to Asia, the biggest market for Iranian crude. A U.S. law that took effect June 28 threatens to cut access to dollars for any foreign bank settling oil trades with Iran. China, Japan, India and 17 other countries received renewable 180-day waivers for reducing imports.

Iranian leaders repeatedly have said that they will reject sanctions and international pressure that aims to force the country to give up disputed elements of Iran’s nuclear program.

“We aren’t happy with the sanctions, but when we are at a crossroad between maintaining our country’s independence or facing sanctions, our nation choses independence,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast said Aug. 1, according to the state-run Mehr news agency.

To contact the reporters on this story: Terry Atlas in Washington at tatlas@bloomberg.net; Nicole Gaouette in Washington at ngaouette@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: John Walcott at jwalcott9@bloomberg.net

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