Nuclear Talks With Iran End Without Accord Or Plans For Another Round By David M. Herszenhorn
officials said the sides remained divided by fundamental disagreements, none of which are new.
ALMATY, Kazakhstan – Negotiations over Iran’s disputed nuclear program broke off Saturday with scant signs of progress, much less an agreement on tighter controls demanded by six world powers in exchange for some easing of sanctions that have a stranglehold on the Iranian economy.
The failure to reach any accord was a stark but not surprising setback in a tortuous, decade-long standoff over Iran’s nuclear ambitions. While the talks have been complicated by the Iranian presidential election just 10 weeks away, officials said the sides remained divided by fundamental disagreements, none of which are new.
Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, who led the talks for the six powers, said that after two days of “long and intense discussions,” the sides “remain far apart on the substance.”
No future negotiations were announced, and Ms. Ashton said she would be “in touch very soon” with the top Iranian negotiator, Saeed Jalili, “in order to see how to go forward.”
Mr. Jalili offered a sharply different summary, saying at a briefing that the next move was up to the big powers, and that they needed more time to digest a new proposal from Iran. He said the proposal was largely based on a plan first put forward in Moscow in June and aimed at addressing some of the international community’s concerns.
But he also adopted a strident tone in reiterating Iran’s view that it has a right to enrich uranium for civilian purposes.
“Of course, there is some distance in the position of the two sides,” Mr. Jalili said. But he said Iran’s proposals, which required recognizing “our right to enrich and ending behaviors which have every indication of enmity toward the Iranian people,” were designed “to help us move toward a constructive road.”
A senior American official said that Iran’s demands were unreasonable, but that the Obama administration was committed to achieving a diplomatic solution despite the prolonged stalemate.
“It is fair to say that Iran is prepared to take very minimal steps in regards to its nuclear program,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, which has become the State Department’s standard practice at the talks, The official added that Iran’s demands on the easing of sanctions were “disproportionate.”
Officials involved in the talks struggled to give a realistic assessment of their failure, while also offering a hint of optimism.
The American official said, “There may not have been a breakthrough but there also was not a breakdown.” Sergei Ryabkov, Russia’s lead negotiator, said, “We’re still on the threshold,” according to the Interfax news service.
The futility of the talks was certain to arouse renewed alarm, particularly from Israel, which had tempered its repeated threats of a military strike against Iranian nuclear sites in deference to the diplomatic efforts.
“This failure was predictable,” Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s minister of strategic affairs, said in a statement. “Israel has already warned that the Iranians are exploiting the talks in order to play for time while making additional progress in enriching uranium for an atomic bomb.” He added, “The time has come for the world to take a more assertive stand and make it unequivocally clear to the Iranians that the negotiations games have run their course.”
The conclusion of the talks without agreement on even a modest confidence-building measure or the clear prospect of future talks was striking given that all sides seemed to have incentives to keep the conversation going, and to avoid talk of military intervention.
The United States has focused increasingly in recent weeks on an intensifying threat from North Korea, which, unlike Iran, already possesses nuclear weapons. Iran, meanwhile, is preoccupied by an internal power struggle over the presidential election.