May 25, 2012
Diplomats from Iran and the world’s six major powers—the United States, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia -- met in Baghdad on May 23 and 24. What did the talks produce?
Nothing concrete. It was their second meeting in a new round of negotiations over concerns Iran is secretly using a civilian nuclear program to develop nuclear weapons. The opening round was held in Istanbul on April 14. The major powers want Iran to suspend uranium enrichment, which makes fuel for peaceful nuclear reactors but can also produce material for the world’s deadliest bomb.
In Baghdad, both sides basically stuck to longstanding positions. The world’s six major powers proposed that Iran stop enriching uranium to 20 percent, a level closer to weapon-grade fuel. They also called on Tehran to ship their stockpile of uranium enriched to this level out of the country.
In turn, Iran demanded that world recognition of its right to enrich uranium for use in its nuclear energy program. It also called for sanctions to be lifted as part of any agreement, although Iranian envoys did not stipulate this as a precondition for talks. Diplomats representing the world’s six major powers countered that they would not postpone tough sanctions due to come into effect in July against Iran's oil industry.
But they did agree to meet again. After the two-day talks, European Union foreign policy chief Lady Catherine Ashton conceded that "Significant differences remain. But she noted that all sides “do agree on the need for further discussion" to expand "common ground." Iran, she also said, "declared its readiness to address the issue of 20 percent enrichment."
What does the outcome indicate about the prospects for diplomatic resolution?
Iran and the world’s six major powers agreed to hold a formal third round in Moscow on June 18-19. "We remain determined to resolve this problem in the near term through negotiations and will continue to make every effort to that end," Ashton said.
After the talks, Iranian negotiator Saeed Jalili indicated a willingness to pursue a negotiated settlement while remaining defiant on what Tehran views as sovereign issues. "What has ended today is the approach of ratcheting up pressure on Iran" and that the "approach of cooperation" would pave the way to progress, Jalili said.
For all the visible differences, however, one diplomat involved in the talks reflected, "We are further along in saying that nuclear is the issue to be discussed and that 20 percent enrichment is part of this."
What happens next?
Before the Moscow meeting, experts from both sides will hold lower level talks on specific sticking points to facilitate more significant progress at the next round of diplomacy.