Iran faces 'Last chance' nuclear talks in Moscow
MOSCOW - Iran and world powers on Monday locked horns in Moscow for a new round of high-stakes talks on the controversial Iranian nuclear programme seen as a last chance to solve the crisis diplomatically.
Chief Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili sat down with representatives from six world powers including Tehran's arch foe the United States for two days of talks which will show if there is any hope of progress in resolving the standoff.
With an initial show of protocol smiles and polite cordiality, Jalili and the Iranian negotiating team sat at one side of the table opposite the envoys of the six world powers and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
Failure in the talks could carry a heavy cost with the United States and its ally Israel refusing to rule out the option of airstrikes against the Iranian nuclear programme and Tehran facing sanctions that could cripple the economy.
But Iran made clear ahead of the negotiations it has no intention of abandoning its right to enrich uranium, the process which can be used to make nuclear fuel but also the explosive core of an atomic bomb.
"If this demand isn't recognised, the negotiations are certainly headed for failure," an unidentified Iranian official at the talks said, according to state news agency IRNA.
Russia's Kommersant daily said Iran would be offered a compromise plan under which it would scale down the degree to which uranium is enriched at its main enrichment facility in Natanz from 20 percent to 3.5 or 5 percent.
The proposal would also require Iran to freeze all enrichment at its underground Fordo facility deep in the mountains outside the holy city of Qom or even close the plant altogether, Kommersant said, quoting diplomatic sources.
The West accuses Iran of seeking an atomic bomb under the guise of a civilian nuclear energy programme, a charge vehemently denied by Tehran. Host Russia has long taken a more cautious line, saying Iran must restore confidence but not explicitly accusing it of military intentions.
The urgency for Iran is compounded by the July 1 deadline the European Union has slapped on a full oil embargo against Tehran and the June 28 rollout of tough US sanctions against a host of countries that buy Iranian oil.
"This meeting is going to be decisive. (If the talks fail) a toughening of sanctions against Tehran will be unavoidable and the use of military force very real," said Kommersant.