April 15, 2012 in Nation/World

Iran, six powers agree to N-talks

Sanctions to remain until ‘concrete’ steps
Roy Gutman McClatchy
Associated Press photo

Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili speaks to the media after daylong talks in Istanbul, Turkey, Saturday.
(Full-size photo)

ISTANBUL, Turkey – Opening a new chapter in their long, stormy relationship with Iran, the United States and five other major powers agreed Saturday to sit down with the Tehran government in six weeks for formal talks aimed at ensuring that its nuclear program will not lead to nuclear weapons.

The talks will take place May 23 in Baghdad, one of the few Middle East capitals where the government in power, dominated by Shiite Muslims like the regime in Tehran, has shown sympathy with Iran’s Islamic regime.

U.S. and European diplomats said the plan is to map out a step-by-step procedure to address concerns over Iran’s dramatic expansion of its uranium stockpile. They stressed that any actions to ease the ever-tightening international sanctions against Iran would be reciprocal and based on concrete steps by Iran.

Iran’s chief negotiator, Saeed Jalili, took center stage after the day of talks, appearing at a post-conference press briefing under a banner headlined, in English, “Nuclear energy for all, nuclear weapons for none.”

He referred to the banner – which also had the pictures of five Iranian nuclear scientists who were assassinated, presumably at Israeli behest – and also reaffirmed the fatwa or order by Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader, declaring possession of a nuclear weapon to be “a sin.”

Jalili said the representatives of the United States, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia had welcomed Iran’s offer to cooperate in resolving the nuclear issue.

A second part of the Iranian message was a reassertion of its rights, as a party to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to enrich uranium for peaceful nuclear purposes – a right which the U.N. Security Council has demanded be suspended so long as there were questions about Iran’s current enrichment program and its expansion of nuclear facilities deep underground.

The third part was Iran’s desire to remove the international sanctions, which are now severely impairing Iran’s ability to sell its oil and to conduct banking and trade transactions.

The major powers that sat at the same round table as Jalili did not spell out all their demands of Iran before the media, partly because they are well-known – nor the incentives they would offer for resolving the dispute.

Instead of specifying the problems or the rewards, the joint statement and statements by several top officials stressed the process by which they hope to clear up the decade-long dispute with Iran.

A senior U.S. official said the Istanbul meeting showed that there is “a serious environment conducive for discussion.” But the official stressed that no easing of sanctions will occur except in response to concrete steps by Iran.

“We have no expectation today that we are lifting any sanctions,” the official said. “Our dual-track approach will continue,” a reference to negotiations in parallel with the ratcheting up of sanctions. “Dialogue is not sufficient. We have to have concrete actions.”

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