U.S.-Iran Seek Fresh Momentum in Extra-Time Nuclear Talks

U.S. and Iranian diplomats are meeting to inject fresh momentum into nuclear negotiations after differences over the Persian Gulf nation’s future uranium enrichment forced negotiators to seek extra time.

Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, the No. 2 ranked U.S. diplomat, will lead talks with his Iranian counterparts in Geneva today, the State Department said late yesterday. Iran and world powers pledged to keep talking after they failed to clinch a long-term deal following 16 days of negotiations in Vienna last month.

“After a 2 1/2-week break it’s time for the negotiations to get back on track,” Ellie Geranmayeh, a fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, said in an interview. The sides “made it clear that during the extension period they would meet in different formations.”

It’s the second time in two months that U.S. and Iranian negotiators have met privately in the Swiss city. Wider talks involving counterparts from China, France, Germany, Russia and the U.K. may take place next month during the United Nations General Assembly in New York. After extending an interim deal lifting some sanctions levied over Iran’s nuclear work in exchange for caps on atomic activities, diplomats have until Nov. 24 to find a lasting solution to the decade-long dispute.

“The powers are asking Iran to do a lot of things because they don’t trust Iran,” Mark Hibbs, a Berlin-based analyst at the Carnegie Endowment, said in a telephone interview. “Iran hasn’t agreed to do some of these things because they don’t trust the powers.”

Obama Call

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi attended the talks beginning at 10 a.m., Iran’s Mehr news agency reported.

Uranium enrichment, the industrial process that can be used to separate isotopes both for nuclear power and bombs, remains at the heart of the dispute. U.S. officials say Iran’s enrichment capacity must be constrained for at least a decade. Iran says it wants advanced enrichment technologies yielding industrial-scale capacity for power.

As negotiations draw closer to the one-year anniversary of the historic Sept. 28 phone call between President Barack Obama and President Hassan Rouhani, peripheral conflicts from Ukraine to Iraq threaten to undermine their pledge to try to find a peaceful solution.

U.S. Leverage

Russia, which like Iran finds itself facing U.S. and European sanctions over its influence in Ukraine, may begin to rethink its role in the nuclear talks, said Hibbs. Iran and Russia defied the U.S. this week by signing an accord to trade oil for goods.

“Russian President Vladimir Putin feels he’s being assailed by the West,” Hibbs said. “The more the Russians conclude a deal with Iran would increase the leverage of the U.S. in the region, the more they’ll want to think twice.”

American and Iranian negotiators are unlikely to veer from nuclear issues to engage on other Middle East conflicts in Gaza, Iraq and Syria, according to Istanbul-based International Crisis Group analyst Ali Vaez.

“It has swelled to such strategic and political proportions that it trumps all other peripheral problems,” Vaez said in an e-mailed response to questions. The Geneva meeting looks like “an effort by the two main stakeholders to put the talks back on track,” he said.

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