After "Constructive" Talks on Iran Nuclear Program, Hopes Rise for Diplomacy

Saturday, 14 April 2012 09:42 By Roy Gutman, McClatchy Newspapers | Report
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Mahmoud AhmadinejadIran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. (Photo: Hiroko Masuike / The New York Times)Istanbul, Turkey - Major world powers Saturday said their first meeting with Iran in over a year took place in a “constructive atmosphere,” boosting hopes for a new round of negotiations to tackle the long-running dispute over Tehran’s nuclear program, which Western countries fear could lead to production of an atomic bomb.

Iran’s delegation, headed by chief negotiator Saeed Jalili, met a delegation of the United States and five other countries, headed by Dame Catherine Ashton of Britain, for two-and-a-half hours Saturday morning, according to Michael Mann, Ashton’s spokesman. He said the United States, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia were “satisfied” with the talks, particularly in contrast to the last meeting here in January 2011, “which didn’t go anywhere.”

“Last year, they weren’t constructive,” he told reporters. “The very fact (the Iranians are) engaging is progress over last year.”

Among the topics discussed at the morning meeting in Istanbul’s Congress center was the plan for a follow-up meeting in Baghdad, Iraq. Mann said a final decision will be reached in a second meeting with all parties late Saturday afternoon.

Many diplomats were hoping that Iran would offer a moratorium on production of both low-enriched uranium — at 3.5 percent strength — and of uranium enriched to 20 percent, but it wasn’t clear what sort of incentives the major powers were planning to offer in exchange. Mann said they had brought no new offers, because a set of measures that had been prepared for the January 2011 meeting was still on the table.

Iran insists that its program of nuclear enrichment is intended entirely for peaceful uses, including providing electricity and producing medical isotopes, but the United States and other Western powers say the rapid expansion of Iran’s enrichment capabilities, and construction of new facilities in a mountain near Qom, could be a hedge to allow construction of a nuclear weapon should the top leadership decide.

Israel has said that acquisition of a nuclear weapon by Iran would be a mortal threat to the Jewish state, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has threatened a preemptive strike if it appears that Iran is on the verge of acquiring nuclear capability.

President Barack Obama has not ruled out the use of U.S. military force if Iran is seen to be acquiring a nuclear weapon, but he has committed himself to seeking a diplomatic solution if possible.

© 2012 McClatchy-Tribune Information Services
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