After Long Nuclear Talks, Iran Agrees To Meet Again

Iranian officials continue meetings with envoys from six world powers in Baghdad on Thursday. They are seeking a solution to the long-running standoff over Tehran's nuclear program.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

And I'm Robert Siegel. In Baghdad today, long and difficult nuclear talks between Iran and six world powers ended with an agreement to keep talking. The two sides claim to have found some common ground and committed to meet again in mid-June in Moscow.

As NPR's Peter Kenyon reports from Baghdad, these grueling discussions demonstrate just how much work remains to be done.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: After two days of what she called very intense and detailed discussions, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the talks had established a new level of seriousness to grapple with the international community's longstanding concerns about Iran's nuclear activities.

CATHERINE ASHTON: It's clear that we both want to make progress and that there is some common ground. However, significant differences remain. Nonetheless, we do agree on the need for further discussion to expand the common ground.

KENYON: The Iranians, who some say came into these talks seeking to be rewarded for an imminent deal to allow UN nuclear inspectors greater access, were disappointed to find the international side unwilling to significantly ease sanctions against Iran or to suspend EU oil sanctions due to kick in on July 1st.

The Iranian press described the international side's proposals as unbalanced. Lead Iranian negotiator, Saeed Jalili, called them incomplete.

SAEED JALILI: (Foreign language spoken).

KENYON: Jalili, too, called the talks very intense and lengthy, saying that discussions were still going on literally minutes before the closing news conference began. He added that, from Iran's perspective, the talks were sound but unfinished.

For the international side, a key indicator of progress will involve Iran's stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium, which is close to weapons grade, and its capacity to produce more at its underground facility at Fordow. The Western proposal offered modest sanctions relief, including spare parts for Iran's civilian aircraft fleet in exchange for a freeze on all 20 percent enrichment.

There was no agreement on that issue, but Ashton said, unlike in recent rounds, the Iranian side this time seemed ready to put it on the table.

ASHTON: Iran declared its readiness to address the issue of 20 percent enrichment and came with its own five-point plan, including their assertion that we recognize their right to enrichment.

KENYON: For those who don't believe a diplomatic solution is possible, any recognition of Iran's right to enrich uranium to any degree and under any circumstances is unacceptable. Leading this wing are Israeli leaders and their allies in the U.S., but for the Iranians, enriching uranium as part of a peaceful nuclear program is a point of national pride and politically an extremely dangerous thing for Iran's leaders to give up in a negotiation.

Even after two days of discussing Iran's enrichment program, Jalili was careful to reiterate Tehran's standard position that enrichment is a right.

JALILI: (Foreign language spoken)

KENYON: Jalili said maintaining control of the nuclear fuel cycle and enrichment is crucial. This, he said, is an inalienable right of the Iranian people and of all members of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

A senior U.S. administration official said the slow going at the table should be seen as a positive sign, reflecting Iran's new willingness to grapple with difficult issues. The deep differences between the two sides revealed in these talks, however, suggest that there is much heavy lifting to be done before the July 1st deadline for those EU oil sanctions that Iran wants to avoid.

From Baghdad, an Iranian ally since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, the talks moved to Russia, another ally of Tehran. Although, on the nuclear issue, Moscow has been right in line with Western positions, as has China.

Ashton and Jalili said, between now and the Moscow meeting, technical meetings will be held to work on an agenda and try to forge a way forward in the face of continued calls for even tougher sanctions and preparations for military activity should diplomacy fail.

Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Baghdad.

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