April 7, 2013 in Nation/World

Iran nuclear talks end without an agreement

Paul Richter McClatchy-Tribune

WASHINGTON – The latest round of international negotiations over Iran’s disputed nuclear program concluded Saturday with no sign of progress and with the future of the fitful diplomatic effort uncertain.

Officials from Iran and the six world powers had “long and intensive discussions” in the two-day session in Kazakhstan, but couldn’t reach agreement, Catherine Ashton, the European Union foreign policy chief, said in Almaty.

“What matters in the end is substance, and … we are still a considerable distance apart,” Ashton told reporters at the end of the two-day talks.

The group didn’t schedule another meeting, as they usually have done in the past to show diplomacy would continue with at least low-level conversations. Officials also said the two sides did not narrow their differences in the final minutes, as often happens.

Ashton said the six nations – United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China – would evaluate how to proceed.

Sergei Ryabkov, the chief Russian negotiator, said, “Unfortunately, we have failed to achieve a breakthrough,” the Interfax news agency reported. Like U.S. and European officials, he said he was encouraged by the detailed exchanges, however.

The Almaty meeting marks the fifth round of talks in less than two years without producing a deal to curtail Iran’s nuclear program. During that time, Iran has absorbed what are meant to be crippling international sanctions against its oil industry, financial sector and other parts of the economy without conceding.

Western officials had sought to keep expectations low for the Almaty meeting, believing Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was unlikely to agree to a politically sensitive deal during the run-up to the Iranian presidential election in June.

They hope that later this summer Khamenei will be willing to agree to curbs on the nuclear program to relieve pressure on the economy. The West’s immediate goal is to persuade Iran to halt production of medium-enriched uranium that could be quickly converted to bomb fuel.

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