The U.S. and its European allies will press Iran for tangible action to curb its nuclear program when talks restart this week after a 15-month hiatus.
Nuclear negotiations between Iran and the five permanent United Nations Security Council members plus Germany will take place starting April 14 in Istanbul, European Union spokesman Michael Mann said yesterday. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Laura Seal confirmed the plans.
“We have agreed to launch talks in Istanbul on April 14,” Mann said. “We hope that this first round will produce a conducive environment for concrete progress. We are of course aiming at a sustained process.”
Iran’s Supreme National Security Council said in a statement today cited by the state-run Mehr news agency that a second round of talks will be held in Baghdad, the date of which will be announced at the end of the Istanbul meeting.
Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi today said he won’t accept any pre-conditions before talks begin. His comment came after the New York Times, citing unidentified diplomats, reported that the allies plan to demand the immediate closure of a nuclear enrichment facility in central Iran.
“Setting any conditions before a meeting means drawing a conclusion before the negotiations, which is completely meaningless,” Salehi said, according to a separate Mehr report. “None of the parties will accept any conditions set before the talks.”
The U.S. and its allies are seeking to avoid a repeat of the previous meeting in January 2011, also in Istanbul, when talks broke down after Iran demanded a lifting of UN sanctions as a condition for discussing the nuclear program. Iran is under increasing pressure from trade, financial and energy sanctions, including U.S. and EU measures to cut oil purchases.
In a joint statement March 8, the U.S. and its five partners in the talks -- China, France, Germany, Russia and the U.K. -- said they wanted sustained discussions with Iran and for the Persian Gulf nation to allow UN inspectors into its secret Parchin military installation.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the six powers should demand that Iran stop enriching uranium to 20 percent and give up any material already processed to that level. Iran also must shut down the Fordo underground enrichment facility near Qom, Barak said in an interview broadcast yesterday on CNN’s “Fareed Zakaria GPS” program.
The U.S. and its allies say their concern is that the uranium, which can be used to generate energy, can be further processed into 90 percent weapons-grade material.
Iran does not need uranium enriched beyond a 20 percent purity level, Iranian Atomic Energy Organization chief Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani was quoted as saying in an interview on state television late yesterday, according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency.
“We will produce and store uranium enriched to that level until able to fulfill the fuel needs of the Tehran reactor for several years,” Abbasi-Davani said. “Once we have as much fuel as needed we will decrease its production and may even revert to solely enriching to 3.5 percent.”
Iranian officials say they need 120 kilograms of the 20 percent-enriched fuel to supply the reactor in the capital, which produces medical isotopes for cancer patients.
Demands to give up a stockpile of material that Iran considers strategic raise the question of what the U.S. would be willing to offer in return, such as easing of sanctions, said Trita Parsi, the founder and president of the National Iranian American Council.
“If there are no concessions given, I find it very unlikely that the Iranians would agree to those demands, however justifiable those demands would be,” said Parsi, the author of “A Single Roll of the Dice: Obama’s Diplomacy with Iran.” “It doesn’t just seem very likely that the Iranians would agree to give up a strategic asset and still wait for oil sanctions to kick in.”
Both sides have shown a repeated pattern of pushing the other to “maximalist demands,” said Parsi, whose Washington-based group advocates diplomacy with Iran.
“Every time, that has ended up being a miscalculation,” he said. “Neither side is going to capitulate.”
Iran denies Western suspicions that it is pursuing a weapons capability, saying it wants nuclear power to provide energy for a growing population and to conduct medical research.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said yesterday that Iran, a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, will retain its right to scientific progress in its atomic program. He also attacked Israel and its allies for having nuclear weapons and threatening his country.
“Certain countries in the region not only possess nuclear technology but also have the atomic bomb,” Ahmadinejad said in an address to industry officials on the occasion of Iran’s nuclear technology day. “However there is no mention of them and no one is bothering them.
Iranian officials often have condemned what they see as a double standard because none of the three nuclear-weapons powers in the region -- Israel, Pakistan, and India -- has signed the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Israel hasn’t acknowledged having nuclear weapons.
The U.S. has sought support from Russia and China for international efforts pressing the Iranians to curb uranium enrichment. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said March 30 that Iran is breaching UN resolutions and ‘‘expanding’’ the scale of its nuclear program.
Earlier this month, Iranian officials said Turkey wouldn’t be a suitable location for nuclear talks in light of its sympathies for the opposition in Syria, an Iranian ally.
Iran’s Salehi had suggested China and Iraq as potential venues. The secretary of Iran’s Expediency Council, named Baghdad, Damascus or Beirut as more suitable locations than Istanbul.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan rebuked Iranian official as being ‘‘dishonest,” saying they were proposing alternative locations they knew the U.S. and its European allies wouldn’t find acceptable.
The Turkish government once blamed officials in Washington for the continuing U.S.-Iran conflict, thinking leaders in Tehran hadn’t been approached properly, said Karim Sadjadpour, an associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a policy research group in Washington.
Turkey was soon frustrated with its own efforts to find agreement with the Iranian regime over the nuclear issue and on Syria, Sadjadpour said yesterday in an e-mail. The result is that Iran risks isolating itself with few allies other than North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela and the regime of President Bashar al-Assad in Syria, he said.
“There are increasingly few locales in the world today which both the U.S. and Iran consider neutral diplomatic terrain,” he said.