By Paul Richter, Tribune Washington Bureau –
ISTANBUL, Turkey — Diplomats from six world powers met with Iranian officials into the midafternoon Saturday in their effort to finally launch a durable negotiation aimed at putting curbs on Tehran’s disputed nuclear program.
The six countries, after failing repeatedly in the past to start such a negotiation, have set the limited goal of beginning a candid conversation with Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, and organizing a second meeting at which they hope to go into greater depth. Iran insists its nuclear program is aimed only at applying nuclear energy to peaceful uses, but many world powers fear Tehran seeks bomb-making capabilities.
The group convened at about 11 a.m. at the Istanbul convention center, met as a group with Jalil, then broke for lunch at about 1:30 p.m. They reconvened about an hour and a half later. Diplomats said they might hold nation-to-nation meetings with Jalili in the afternoon.
Western officials described the Iranians’ tone as constructive, and compared it favorably with last year, when at a similar meeting Iran refused to discuss the nuclear program.
The so-called P5 Plus One group includes the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — the United States, France, Britain, Russia and China — plus Germany.
Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy chief who is organizing the event, said before the meeting that while some signs were encouraging, “much depends on what Iran is putting on the table today.”
“What we are here to do is find ways in which we can build confidence between us and ways in which we can demonstrate that Iran is moving away from a nuclear weapons program,” she said.
Iranian officials, who have been alternatively positive and critical of the meeting, continued their commentary from afar.
The government-controlled Fars news organization interviewed Mohammed Esmaeel Kosari, deputy chief of the national security and foreign policy commission of the parliament, who said that the first subject of discussion should be the assassination of Iranian nuclear scientists, blamed by Iran on foreign powers.
He said the six powers “should answer our questions, because they have not so far condemned the assassination.”
Nader Karimi Joni, a columnist, said in an interview that both Iran and the six nations were trying to kill time with the talks, for different reasons. He said the West wants to kill time as a pretext for further pressure on Iran, while Iran is happy to use time to continue pressing ahead with the nuclear program.
So if the meeting leads to more meetings, “we can say that is the maximum both sides could achieve today,” Joni said.
Hermidas Bavand, a former Iranian diplomat who is now an academic, praised the talks, saying that if the two sides can agree on another meeting “it is the beginning of confidence building,” and a process that can ultimately lead to compromises and a lifting of the economic sanctions.