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Details emerge on Iran's priorities in nuclear talks

Iran says it is willing to lower uranium enrichment levels to end sanctions. But it also set out red lines in PowerPoint presentation at recent Moscow talks.

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An oil tanker loads gas in Assaluyeh seaport at the Persian Gulf, 870 miles south of Tehran in this May 27, 2006 file photo. Iran will see its July oil exports more than halved from regular levels seen last year because tough new Western sanctions are stifling flows and costing Tehran more than $3 billion in lost revenue per month.

Morteza Nikoubazl/Reuters/File

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Details are emerging about the content of Iran's nuclear talks with world powers, days after a 15-hour marathon meeting of technical experts in Istanbul, which show the two sides poles apart but engaged on substantive issues.

Iran's priorities are now clear: The removal of all sanctions, and explicit guarantees of its "nuclear rights" to enrich uranium, according to the original slides of an Iranian PowerPoint presentation made during the latest top-level political talks in Moscow in June, acquired by the Monitor.

Also becoming clearer: Iran is willing to negotiate over its most sensitive nuclear work – enrichment to 20 percent level – but rejects many other demands of the P5+1 group (the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany).

The Iran mission to the United Nations shared a text version of the same information – without clearly identifying it as the precise presentation made in Moscow – with Iran specialists Tuesday. Added to it was Iran's detailed response to the P5+1 package, which was first laid down during a previous rancorous round of talks in Baghdad in May.  That Iranian document was first published by Al-Monitor website on Wednesday.

The P5+1 wants to permanently curb Iran's advanced nuclear program, to ensure the Islamic Republic can never build a nuclear  weapon. Iran says its work is limited to peaceful uses only, and argues that as a signatory to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) and under constant UN inspection, it has been singled out for political reasons.

The Istanbul round last Tuesday was low-level and technical in nature. The talks focused only on two points. The first was halting Iran's 20-percent enrichment – a level technically close to weapon's grade of 90 percent – and shipping its 20-percent stockpile out of the country. Iranian officials have indicated publicly for months they may willing to do a deal on 20 percent, though Iranian lawmakers this week voiced reasons to raise that level further for non-weapon purposes.

The importance of progress was underscored by mutual saber-rattling this week: Iran conducted three days of missile-test war games, while the US highlighted its own military buildup off Iran's shores in the Persian Gulf.

Ending 20-percent enrichment

The second point discussed in Istanbul was the P5+1 demand that Iran close down its enrichment facility at Fordow, which is deeply buried underground, difficult to attack, and home to Iran's 20 percent enrichment.

"My first impression is that there is room to be optimistic, as long as both sides need to calm the situation, because it is getting out of control," says an Iranian official familiar with the talks, who asked not to be further identified.

At the negotiating table, Iran "clearly for the first time" offered to exchange 20-percent enrichment for lifting of sanctions, says the Iranian official. That indirectly echoes Iran's PowerPoint proposal, which states that Iran "will cooperate with the 5+1 to provide enriched [20 percent] fuel," and expects the P5+1 will in return "terminate the sanctions and will remove Iran's nuclear file from the [UN Security Council] agenda."

"We said the issue of 20-percent could be a matter of discussion, when the [final] result was known, if they said what they are going to give us in return – a full lifting of sanctions," says the Iranian official. "We said all of them, though it could be done part by part."

On the other side, the P5+1 say they need to see Iran take confidence-building measures first, before real bargaining can begin.

"So far, we have not seen a willingness by the Iranians to do anything else than talk, write letters, and gesture," says a Western diplomat close to the talks. "There is a real sense among the P5+1 that we're going to have to see some action ... from the Iranians."

"It's not that we are inflexible, but there is a sense that before we get into the flexibility, they have to do more than just talk," says the Western diplomat.

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