Iran and six world powers wrapped up talks in Baghdad on Thursday with resolve to keep dialogue going as an alternative to possible military action, The Associated Press reported.
Envoys said they will meet again next month in Moscow after negotiations stretched out for extra hours, the two sides agreed on little, and Iran declared an impasse.
“It is clear that we both want to make progress, and that there is some common ground,” European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton told reporters. “However, significant differences remain. Nonetheless, we do agree on the need for further discussion to expand that common ground.”
Saeed Jalili, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, offered a lukewarm assessment of what the negotiations achieved, in light of European and American refusal to lift tough sanctions as Tehran had hoped.
“The result of the talks was that we were able to get more familiar with the views of each other,” Jalili was quoted by AP as having said.
The Baghdad discussions began with hopes for progress before each side accused the other of failing to offer meaningful, realistic proposals, AP noted. The discussions also showed that U.S. diplomats and others are pressing neither for quick deals nor for ultimatums that could derail the sensitive talks.
The overall message was somehow to keep talking, the report said, adding that the Moscow negotiations are set for June 18-19.
The world powers opened the Baghdad talks with a U.S.-backed proposal calling on Tehran to halt the production of 20 percent enriched uranium in exchange for benefits such as medical isotopes, some nuclear safety cooperation and spare parts for civilian airliners that are needed in Iran.
Iran, however, emphasized that it has every right to pursue uranium enrichment for peaceful uses. Jalili said Iran would consider suspending the 20 percent level but only if the world powers recognize its right to enrich uranium.
On Wednesday, Western diplomats said that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has concluded that Iran installed 350 new centrifuges at the Fordow underground facility since February.
The IAEA is expected to reveal this information in a new report to be released on Friday. The installation of more centrifuges has increased the Islamic Republic’s potential to enrich uranium, the diplomats said.
The Islamic Republic admitted last year it was moving more centrifuge machines for enriching uranium to the underground facility, which is carved into a mountain to protect it against possible attacks.
The existence of the facility near Qom only came to light after it was identified by Western intelligence agencies in September 2009. The UN’s nuclear watchdog has confirmed that Iran begun enriching uranium at the plant.
On Tuesday, it was reported that Iran will sign an agreement to cooperate with the IAEA nuclear watchdog agency.
Yukiya Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, returned to Vienna after a one-day visit to Tehran and announced that “a decision was made to conclude and sign the agreement. I can say it will be signed quite soon."
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman expressed skepticism over the agreement, saying the Iranians are trying to create a more pleasant and relaxed atmosphere during negotiations but that their goal remains the same - to obtain nuclear weapons.
“While sanctions on Iran have an impact, it is not enough of an impact to bring a real change in the situation,” Lieberman said. “We should also pay attention to the negative Iranian involvement in every possible place in the Middle East.”
Earlier, Defense Minister Ehud Barak also expressed doubt over the value of an agreement between the IAEA and Iran.
“It appears that the Iranians are trying to reach a ‘technical agreement’ which will create the impression of progress in the talks, in order to remove some of the pressure before the [P5+1] talks tomorrow in Baghdad; as well as to put off the intensification of sanctions,” Barak said.