5/23/2012

Iran Gets New Offer From Powers at Atomic Talks in Iraq

BLOOMBERG

Iraq, invaded and occupied in 2003 over concern about weapons of mass destruction, hosted world powers who today made a revised proposal intended to avert a potential war over atomic work by its eastern neighbor Iran.
Chinese, French, German, Russian, British and U.S. negotiators -- the so-called P5+1 group -- presented the offer today before adjourning, said Michael Mann, the spokesman for European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. The P5+1 wants Iran to reduce production of 20 percent-enriched uranium in exchange for the offer, he said, without providing specifics.
“We are getting into the substance of the matter,” Mann, who joined negotiators meeting inside a villa in Baghdad’s heavily guarded Green Zone, told journalists. “We hope the Iranians will respond positively. We’re going to make solid progress if things go well.”
While Iran, target of an investigation by the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency since 2003, denies it is seeking to make nuclear weapons, the Islamic Republic has refused to cooperate with inspectors and is under multiple international sanctions. Israel has warned that time to reach an agreement over Iran’s nuclear work isn’t unlimited and hasn’t ruled out military strikes if diplomacy fails.

‘Good News’ Expected

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said he expects the negotiations to “bring good news.”
“We are optimistic and hope the other side also wants to make the Baghdad summit a success,” he told reporters in Tehran today before the meeting, adding that imposing new sanctions on his country would be a “huge and strategic mistake.”
Negotiators may meet again tomorrow in Baghdad depending on how the Iranians react to the proposal, Mann said. Diplomats will reconvene for more meetings tonight, state-run Press TV reported, without saying where it got the information.
The sides remain far from an accord, according to Taleb Mahdi, an Iranian delegate who denied that the P5+1 had offered anything new. Iran presented its own step-by-step proposal to the P5+1 group that includes nuclear and non-nuclear issues, the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency reported, without citing anybody.
“We did not receive any new proposal,” Mahdi told reporters in Arabic after the sides adjourned. “Until now there is no indication of anything optimistic or of positive progress.”
The U.S. and the EU have adopted dozens of financial, trade, insurance and energy-related sanctions since November to squeeze Iran’s economy and force its leaders to abandon any illicit aspects of their nuclear program.

Sanctions to Stay

Sanctions won’t be lifted as a result of the Baghdad meeting, Mann said. While the P5+1 group is “hopeful” that Iran will respond positively to the offer, it doesn’t expect an outcome to this round of negotiations, he said.
The nations may offer Iran nuclear-safety assistance, research-reactor fuel, airplane parts and help fighting drug smugglers in return for concessions, according to U.S. and European officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity before the talks began.
IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano announced yesterday that the agency had broken a five-year stalemate with Iran over wider inspector access to nuclear sites, including the Parchin military complex, where the Persian Gulf country may have worked on the trigger for an atomic bomb. The deal sent world oil prices lower.

Oil Drops

Crude oil for July delivery fell 55 cents, or 0.6 percent, to $91.30 a barrel at 9:39 a.m. on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Futures touched $90.71, the lowest intraday level since Nov. 1. Front-month futures are down 7.6 percent this year.
Talks between Iran and world powers will continue after the Baghdad meeting, a senior Iranian lawmaker said yesterday, according to state-run news channel Al-Alam.
“We need to see this path as a long one,” Alaeddin Boroujerdi, head of parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee, said in an interview. “Baghdad won’t be the last stop.” Iran may revive an offer to swap part of its enriched-uranium stockpile for atomic fuel needed to make medical isotopes, he said.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak yesterday responded with skepticism to reports about the IAEA agreement, saying Iran was trying to create the illusion of progress to relieve the sanctions against it.

‘Clear Bar’

“It appears that the Iranians are trying to reach a ‘technical agreement’ which will create the impression of progress in the talks,” Barak said in an e-mailed statement. “Israel believes that Iran should be set a clear bar so there is no window or crack which the Iranians can creep through to advance their military nuclear program.”
Baghdad, named the worst city in the world in the most recent Mercer life-quality rankings, was occupied in the 2003 invasion that ousted Saddam Hussein. Then U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told the UN that evidence indicated Iraq was working on a nuclear weapon, though data collected after the U.S. invasion showed the allegations were false.
Iran, which requested that today’s meeting take place in Baghdad, should press for bilateral talks with the U.S. to discuss regional security, Seyed Hossein Mousavian, the former spokesman for Iran’s nuclear negotiating team, said in an interview earlier this month.
Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari told Iran’s state-run Fars news yesterday that “no effort has been made to set up a meeting between Iran and U.S. in Baghdad, but the matter will be looked into.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Jonathan Tirone in Vienna at jtirone@bloomberg.net; Nayla Razzouk in Baghdad at nrazzouk2@bloomberg.net