Talks stall over Iran’s nuclear ambitions

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A SENIOR US official has denied there had been any breakdown in nuclear talks with Iran, despite the lack of substantive progress in two days of negotiations between the six world powers and the Islamic republic in Kazakhstan.

“There was no breakthrough but also no breakdown,” the official said last night after the meeting in the Kazakh city of Almaty. The official said the major powers intended to proceed with diplomatic efforts to solve the dispute.

Earlier Iran and the six world powers failed to reach agreement on an approach to reducing fears that Tehran might use its nuclear technology to make weapons, with the European Union’s foreign policy chief declaring that the two sides “remain far apart on substance”.

Expectations that the talks were making progress rose after an afternoon session was extended into yesterday evening. But comments by Lady Ashton, the EU’s head of foreign policy, made clear that the two sides had failed to make enough headway to qualify the meeting as a success.

“What matters in the end is substance, and ... we are still a considerable distance apart,” said Ashton.

She said negotiators would now consult with their capitals and made no mention of plans for a new meeting – another sign that the gap dividing the two sides remains substantial.

The six insist Iran cut back on its highest grade uranium enrichment production and stockpile, fearing it will divert it from making nuclear fuel to form the material used in warheads. They say Iran must make that move – and make it first – to build confidence that its nuclear programme is peaceful.

They were asking Tehran to greatly limit its production and stockpiling of uranium enriched to 20 per cent, which is just a technical step away from weapons-grade uranium. That would keep Iran’s supply below the amount needed for further processing into a weapon. Iran, however, is seeking greater rewards for concessions.