By Paul Richter, Tribune Washington Bureau –
BAGHDAD — Officials of six world powers and Iran gathered at an imposing guest house in Baghdad’s international zone in a hopeful but subdued atmosphere for one or two days of talks on Iran’s disputed nuclear program.
The six world powers opened the meeting at midday Wednesday with a group session led by Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign policy chief. The group is expected to outline a proposed interim deal in which Iran would halt production of 20 percent enriched uranium, which can be purified relatively easily to material that can be used in a nuclear bomb. It would also surrender control of all of the material and dismantle an underground bunker where it is being refined.
In return, the other nations would hold off on further sanctions against Iran and would provide several incentives, including help with Iran’s civilian nuclear program.
Michael Mann, a spokesman for Ashton, emerged from the meeting later to announce: “We’ve put a new offer on the table … we’re hoping Iran will react in a good way.”
He declined to provide details but said he didn’t expect “dramatic happenings.”
A Western official said the proposal would “include confidence-building measures that can begin to pave the way for Iran to demonstrate that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes and for it to comply with (Security Council) resolutions.”
It is unclear whether the Iranians and American officials will have bilateral discussions. U.S. officials say they are open to direct discussions if they could be productive, but say the same business might be transacted in a group setting.
Representatives of the six powers — the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China — don’t expect a deal at this gathering but want Iran to signal that it would make concessions in a comprehensive negotiation.
White House officials have expressed optimism about the talks but some of the diplomats involved in the discussions are making no predictions.