Iran, U.S. Will Try to Overcome Distrust in Istanbul

Diplomats from the U.S. and Iran will try to overcome mutual distrust in Istanbul tomorrow at the second meeting of world powers since last month to discuss the Persian Gulf country’s nuclear program.

The so-called P5+1 group, composed of China, France, Germany, Russia, the U.K and U.S., represented by European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, will press Iran to resolve international concerns over its nuclear work while the Iranian government will try to broaden the meeting to include regional security issues, say analysts and diplomats connected with the talks.

“Much of the Iranian challenge results from responses to what it sees as the strategically hostile environment created by the United States and her allies,” Paul Ingram, executive director of the British American Security Information Council, a London-based policy-advisory group, said in an e-mailed answer to questions. “This has become a contest of wills.”

Iran, under four sets of United Nations Security Council sanctions for refusing to suspend its atomic work, has come under increasing pressure. Tehran has accused Israeli and U.S. agents of killing a nuclear scientist in a Nov. 29 bomb attack. A report by the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security showed that Iran’s nuclear program was targeted and may have come under cyber attack intended to disable uranium enrichment machines.

‘Kills Our Scientists’

“An enemy who kills our scientists has no qualms about infecting the Internet,” Iran’s chief negotiator Saeed Jalili told Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine in an interview published Jan. 18. “We are suspicious of the West.”

Iran test-fired a surface-to-air missile near its Arak heavy water production plant yesterday, saying it needs to assess its readiness in protecting the nation’s nuclear sites.

At tomorrow’s talks, “the most important point is not what’s on the agenda but for the two parties to feel that there can be a climate in which maneuvering is possible,” said Kayhan Barzegar, director for international affairs at the Center for Middle-East Strategic Studies in Tehran. Iran last met with the P5+1 group in Geneva Dec. 6-7.

The U.S. and Europe accuse Iran of lying about its nuclear work, which they say is a cover to develop atomic weapons. Iran, under International Atomic Energy Agency investigation since 2003, says it only wants to generate nuclear power.

U.S., China

China’s President Hu Jintao and President Barack Obama talked about Iran yesterday in Washington and issued a joint statement that called on Iran to engage in a “constructive dialogue process” and to implement UN resolutions requiring the country to suspend its nuclear work.

“To prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, we agreed that Iran must uphold its international obligations, and that the U.N. Security Council sanctions on Iran must be fully enforced,” Obama said at a press conference.

Technical glitches and sanctions that have delayed Iran’s nuclear program give the U.S. and its partners more time to exert pressure without resorting to military action, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said. Israel’s outgoing head of intelligence, Meir Dagan, said this month that Iran wouldn’t be able to produce a nuclear weapon before 2015, three or four years later than earlier Israeli estimates.

‘A Way Forward’

“We will all be meeting with Iran and continuing our discussion about what Iran is entitled to and what it is not and to try to find a way forward,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in an interview aired on television Jan. 16 in Abu Dhabi. “Their program, from our best estimate, has been slowed down. So we have time, but not a lot of time.”

While Iran is willing to talk about nuclear disarmament and U.S. atomic weapons stationed in Europe, the country’s uranium-enrichment program will be off limits at the Istanbul round of talks, Jalili said.

“Everything takes place under the supervision of the UN weapons inspectors from the IAEA,” Jalili said. “Uranium enrichment for peaceful purposes is not up for discussion.”

For the past five years, the Iranian government has built its policy on asserting and preserving its right to enrich uranium based on the nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty it has signed, Barzegar said in a phone interview.

‘No Return’

President Mahmoud “Ahmadinejad’s government has paid heavy costs for this and has too much political capital at stake to go back on it,” he said. “It is a point of no return for Iran.”

If world powers’ “fundamental demand is for Iran to halt its enrichment activities, then the talks are lost from the start,” Barzegar said. The other party “needs to take into consideration Iran’s demand and its limitations in accepting a deal.”

The “balancing point” is for other nations at the talks to accept Iran’s right to enrich with Iran providing assurance that its program is not being diverted toward arms development, he said.

Turkey, which tried with Brazil to broker a compromise deal last year to supply Iran with enriched uranium, said it “stands ready to contribute to the process as requested by the parties,” according to a government statement. The two-day talks are expected to end Jan. 22.

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu will host a dinner tonight in Istanbul for diplomats from the P5+1 group, Hurriyet newspaper reported.

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