January 23, 2011
Reporting from Vienna —
A high-stakes international standoff over Iran's nuclear ambitions came no closer a resolution Saturday as the latest round of talks aimed at curtailing the controversial program ended in failure in Turkey.
The two-day meeting in Istanbul between Iran and six world powers was in effect stalled from the very start, with Tehran insisting that it has the right to continue enriching uranium and demanding an end to United Nations sanctions.
The United States and its allies believe that Iran is intent on acquiring nuclear weapons. Iran says its program is for peaceful purposes.
Although no further talks were scheduled, Western officials said they would keep the door open for new negotiations with Iran.
"We continue to believe there is time and space for diplomacy," a Western diplomat said on condition of anonymity.
Led by Catherine Ashton, the European Union's foreign policy chief, the diplomats were trying to revive an offer by the United States, France and Russia for a swap of some of Iran's low-enriched uranium stockpile for fuel for the Iranian reactor that produces isotopes for medical purposes.
They also tried to explore "other practical confidence-building measures," another Western official at the talks said without elaborating.
The efforts were met with an Iranian assertion of the nation's sovereign rights.
"Any kind of talks and cooperation, as I underlined during the talks with Mrs. Ashton, should be based on respecting the nation's rights … including Iran's right to nuclear technology," Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, said after the end of the talks Saturday.
Ashton said any expectations that Iran would respond positively to the ideas Western diplomats brought to the table were crushed.
"We had hoped to have a detailed and constructive discussion of those ideas," she told reporters in Istanbul. "But it became clear that the Iranian side was not ready for this unless we agree to preconditions related to enrichment and sanctions.
"Both these preconditions are not the way to proceed," she said.
The meeting in Istanbul was agreed upon in December after about a 14-month break in negotiations between Iran and the West.
Before the start of the talks, Western diplomats said that Iran needed to come forward with concrete measures to convince the West that its nuclear program was indeed for peaceful purposes.
In 2009, the U.S. and its allies tried to persuade Iran to ship some of its low-enriched uranium stockpile out of the country in exchange for fuel. The West saw the deal as a confidence-building measure and a way to remove material that, if enriched further, could be used for nuclear weapons.
After initially agreeing, Iran backed away from the offer and has since started to enrich uranium further.
Western diplomats warned before the meeting that if the talks failed, new sanctions could follow.
Damianova is a special correspondent.