Iran Nuclear Talks Seen Unaffected by Downed Malaysian Plane

Nuclear talks in Vienna between world powers and Iran are unlikely to be derailed by yesterday’s downing of a Malaysian Airlines plane over Ukraine, analysts and diplomats said.

Envoys entering a 16th day of negotiations are expected to extend their interim accord agreed to in November. Chances for a long-term deal were dashed this week because of disagreements over Iran’s uranium-enrichment program.

“The momentum that has built up since these talks began is what really counts,” Richard Dalton, the U.K.’s former ambassador to Iran, said today in an interview. “These nuclear talks have survived the appalling differences of opinion over Syria and they’re going to survive the Ukraine issue.”

Russia, one of the countries negotiating with Iran, is trading blame with Ukraine over who was responsible for the death of all 298 people aboard the Malaysia Airlines jet that went down yesterday in eastern Ukraine.

A Russian-made air-defense missile appears to have hit the plane, according to U.S. military and intelligence officials.

Evidence so far indicates that the plane was struck by an SA-11 or Buk surface-to-air missile, according to four officials who asked for anonymity because an investigation is continuing.

France, Germany the U.K. -- under European Union auspices - - and the U.S. imposed harsher sanctions against Russia this week over its support for separatists in east Ukraine.

Missile Sales

Russian President Vladimir Putin, while offering condolences to the families of those lost on the plane, dismissed the sanctions and warned they’d boomerang. Hours before the plane crash, Iran’s ambassador to Moscow, Mehdi Sanai, said the Persian Gulf nation was close to an agreement to buy advanced missile systems and additional nuclear reactors from Russia.

While previous arms sales have drawn scrutiny from Israel and the U.S., neither the arms deal nor the Malaysian plane tragedy should be expected to disrupt the nuclear talks, according to Istanbul-based International Crisis Group analyst Ali Vaez.

“If the negotiators have had one success, it has been to fully segregate these talks from other major world developments,” Vaez said in a written reply to questions.

The interim accord capped some Iranian nuclear activities while offering Iran limited sanctions relief. The six-month deal, agreed to Nov. 24 and which came into effect Jan. 20, may be extended by up to six months. President Barack Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani have both supported giving negotiators more time by extending the pact.

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