Officials from both sides have accused each other of not being "serious" about engagement, of stalling for time, and being unwilling to strike a deal that would calm Western and Israeli fears about Iran ever trying to build a nuclear weapon, lift crippling sanctions on Iran, and avoid possible military strikes by Israel or the US.
A testy exchange of letters included one published late yesterday from Jalili's deputy, Ali Bagheri, to Ashton's deputy, Helga Schmid. The senior Iranian official asked why the P5+1 refused to meet at "experts level" prior to the Moscow talks – the term usually used to describe technical experts who are meant to discuss more detailed aspects of the negotiations. The official warned that without such preparation, "what guarantee will there be for the success of future talks?"
Diplomats from both sides claim that they have gone out of their way to accommodate the other in the interest of successful talks. But they also claim that they have "got nothing but some vague replies" (says an Iranian diplomat close to negotiations) or come up against "obfuscation" and "increasing negativity" (says a European diplomat in Brussels familiar with the talks).
In the past week there have been two direct calls between Bagheri and Schmid, notes the European diplomat. Since late May, five letters have been exchanged and "we have offered for at least a week a direct call between Ashton and Jalili, which they dragged their feet on."
Says the European diplomat: "Every effort has been aimed at ensuring that we reach out ... that we offer calls at a high level, that we communicate in every which way we can, [so] it is absurd to somehow shift the blame for an outcome in Moscow on a supposed unwillingness on our part [to engage]."