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Iran nuke talks bode well

To continue in November, details still obscured

Switzerland's Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter, left, speaks with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, right, during a meeting besides of the two days of closed-door nuclear talks in Geneva, Switzerland, Wednesday. AP photo

Switzerland's Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter, left, speaks with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, right, during a meeting besides of the two days of closed-door nuclear talks in Geneva, Switzerland, Wednesday. AP photo

GENEVA — Nuclear talks between Iran and six world powers ended on an upbeat note Wednesday, with top Western and Iranian negotiators announcing a follow-up round early next month while speaking of significant progress in efforts to reduce fears that Tehran may be seeking atomic arms.

Despite abandoning the pessimistic tone of previous meetings, however, negotiators refused to reveal details on what — if any — concessions Iran offered. That gives potential traction to skeptics who can claim the conference was aimed more at building trust and silencing critics at home than in resolving the thorny issues that have blocked progress over a decade of talks.

Iran denies suspicions that it wants nuclear arms and has resisted incentives and tough penalties aimed at curbing its atomic activities. But since reformist Iranian President Hassan Rouhani took office in August, senior officials from Rouhani on down have pledged to meet international concerns in exchange for an easing of crippling economic sanctions.

The post-meeting optimism expressed by senior Western and Iranian officials suggested that Tehran had put forward serious proposals at the two-day talks. Catherine Ashton, the EU’s top diplomat, spoke of “a very intensive and, I think, a very important meeting,” while Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif said he hoped for “the beginning of a new phase” between his country and some of its most vehement critics.

“I believe that both sides are serious about finding a resolution, that both sides want to find common ground,” Zarif said. “And I hope that my counterparts ... will also take back home the fact that Iran is interested in resolving this issue.”

Zarif led the Iranian delegation while Ashton convened the talks. Past sessions were often punctuated by months-long pauses as the two sides tried to find common ground. Ashton said, however, that the negotiations would reconvene Nov. 7-8 in Geneva.

A statement read by Ashton to reporters on behalf of both sides said the talks were “substantive and forward looking.”

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, Moscow’s chief negotiator, was more sparing with praise, describing the meeting as “better than many people thought, but worse than what we hoped for.”

A senior U.S. official said that while the six powers “got more today than we’ve ever gotten, there’s a whole lot more that we need to get and probably more that Iran wants to get from us. ... There’s a lot of detail that needs to be unpacked.” The official demanded anonymity as a condition for attendance at a background briefing.

Iranian state TV, which closely reflects government views, said Tehran offered to discuss uranium enrichment levels. The report also said Iran proposed adopting the additional protocols of the U.N.’s nuclear treaty — effectively opening its nuclear facilities to wider inspection and monitoring — if the West recognizes Iran’s right to enrich uranium.

But Zarif said implementing the protocols was not an issue “at this stage.”

Even if the meeting achieved limited progress, the United States and Iran remain vulnerable to powerful forces back home that may scuttle the process without proof they are delivering on widely diverging goals. Iranian hard-liners want significant sanctions relief, while many members of the U.S. Congress want concrete reduction of the perceived Iranian nuclear threat.

Sen. Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, introduced a Senate resolution Wednesday calling for additional sanctions on Iran.

“No one should be impressed by what Iran appears to have brought to the table in Geneva,” Rubio said. “Tehran has broken its word far too many times to be trusted. Due to its complete disregard for previous international agreements, we must take a firm stand in all negotiations regarding the nuclear capabilities Iran is permitted to retain.”

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