Iran Nuclear Talks ‘Constructive’ After 15-Month Break

Talks on Iran’s nuclear program resumed today after a gap of more than a year, with Israel and the U.S. threatening military strikes to prevent the Islamic Republic from developing atomic weapons.

The so-called P5+1 group of five permanent United Nations Security Council members -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the U.S. -- plus Germany are meeting Iranian delegates in Istanbul for the first time since January 2011, when they broke up without agreement. Iran says it is developing nuclear technology to generate power and for medical purposes.

“Talks were conducted in a constructive atmosphere this morning,” Michael Mann, a spokesman for the European Union delegation, told reporters as the parties broke for lunch. “Last year, the talks didn’t lead anywhere, and we’re hopeful that this year they will,” he said. “Things are better than they were last year.”

Speculation about a military attack on Iran and a possible decline in the country’s oil output because of embargoes by the U.S. and EU have helped push Brent crude prices 13 percent higher this year. Iran is the second-largest producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.

Building Confidence

“I hope what we will see today is the beginnings of a sustained process” to build confidence between the participants and “demonstrate that Iran is moving away from a nuclear weapons program,” Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief who is leading the P5+1 group, said in a statement as the talks started. “Much depends on what Iran is putting on the table today.”

Brent crude for May settlement climbed 12 cents to expire at $121.83 a barrel in London yesterday. The more actively traded June contract dropped 31 cents, or 0.3 percent, to $121.21 a barrel.

Iran will attend the first round of talks with a “constructive spirit and initiatives,” Saeed Jalili, the country’s nuclear envoy, said late yesterday after a three hour-dinner with Ashton, according to state-run Mehr news agency. Jalili said Iran will stick to its fundamental rights.

Delegates began talks at about 11 a.m. local time, according to two Western officials with knowledge of the meeting. All delegations in the P5+1 group told the Iranians that they would welcome one-on-one meetings, one of the people said.

Invited to Baghdad

Iran’s negotiating partners would be receptive to holding the next round of negotiations in Baghdad, within four to six weeks, another Western diplomat said. All the officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks aren’t public.

“We’ve taken note of the invitation of the Iraqi government,” Mann said in response to a question about reconvening in Baghdad. “We’re hoping we’ll be able to announce a second round of talks, but results have to be substantive.”

The negotiations come two months after Jalili wrote to Ashton to say that Iran was ready to hold talks. He made the offer as the U.S. and EU tightened sanctions on Iran and as Israeli leaders, such as Defense Minister Ehud Barak, said that time was running out to avoid a military strike intended to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

The start of talks is a “positive sign,” Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser at the White House, told reporters traveling yesterday with President Barack Obama to Florida and a summit in Latin America.

Dialogue as ‘Process’

“Dialogue must be seen as a process rather than an event,” Iran’s Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi wrote in an April 12 op-ed column in Washington Post. “If the intention of dialogue is merely to prevent cold conflict from turning hot, rather than to resolve differences, suspicion will linger.”

Iran has a growing stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium, which could be purified further into atomic-bomb material.

“Our position is that Iran must live up to its international obligations, including the full suspension of uranium enrichment, as required by multiple UN Security Council resolutions,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said April 11.

Iran has produced enough 20 percent enriched uranium to fuel its Tehran research reactor for at least five to 10 years, according to the Institute for Science and International Security, a research group in Washington. That reactor produces isotopes used in medical treatment for 800,000 Iranians a year, according to Salehi’s column.

Uranium Enrichment

Further stockpiling of 20 percent enriched uranium “poses a growing threat” that some will be diverted for weapons use, according to the April 10 ISIS report.

Iran is enriching uranium to the 20 percent level at an underground facility at Fordo, near Qom, under monitoring from the International Atomic Energy Agency. The “safeguards” monitoring by the UN agency is intended to prevent diversion for use in making nuclear weapons, which require enrichment to the 90 percent level. Civilian nuclear power plants require 5 percent low-enriched uranium.

The issues of how much enrichment Iran may be allowed to continue and under what conditions are among the topics for negotiation. The IAEA said Feb. 24 its inspectors had not been given sufficient access to Iran’s facilities to be able to provide “credible assurance” about the absence of undeclared nuclear activities.

‘Real Incentives’

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, the head of his country’s delegation to Istanbul, said yesterday that Iran must be offered “real incentives” to allow full monitoring of its nuclear program, rather than being told to halt uranium enrichment immediately.

Iran’s tactical goals are to buy time and alleviate the sanctions, said Bruno Tertrais, senior research fellow at the Foundation for Strategic Research in Paris, in a phone interview.

“The only way for the sanctions to be alleviated or at least be partially suspended would be a suspension of all Iranian enrichment activities,” he said. Iran’s long-term goal is for the P5+1 powers to recognize its “right to enrichment,” Tertrais said.

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