Last updated: 24 July, 2012

High-level EU-Iran meeting in Istanbul on nuclear row

European and Iranian diplomats appeared to make little headway as they met in Turkey on Tuesday in a bid to seek common ground in the protracted negotiations on Tehran’s disputed nuclear drive.

The meeting between Iran’s deputy chief nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri and Helga Schmid, the deputy for European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, was held in a secret Istanbul location and details of the discussions were not released to the press.

According to Iran’s ISNA news agency, the meeting sought to “seek common ground and coordination” between the views of the P5+1 — the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany — and Iran, and to prepare for a telephone conversation between Iranian chief negotiator Saeed Jalili and Ashton.

Ashton — who is leading negotiations on behalf of world powers — said in June that she and Jalili should meet if there was enough headway in Tuesday’s talks and a previous technical meeting in Istanbul earlier this month.

The ISNA report about a telephone conversation would appear to suggest that insufficient progress had been made for face-to-face meeting.

And French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Thursday that the debate with Iran remained unchanged.

“Very objectively, the discussion is not advancing,” he said.

Ashton’s spokesman Michael Mann had said earlier that the meeting between Bagheri and Schmid would be followed by a “contact” between Ashton and Jalili.

The P5+1 has been involved in negotiations to try to curb Iran’s nuclear programme, which Israel and the West suspect is a cover for efforts to build an atomic bomb, a charge denied by Iran.

The P5+1 has told Iran to immediately stop enriching uranium to the 20 percent level, to ship out its existing 20 percent stock and to shut down a fortified underground enrichment facility.

Enriching uranium to 20 percent purity is just a technical step short of the 90 percent needed to make nuclear bombs.

Iran insists it has a right to uranium enrichment under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which it says should be recognised by the P5+1. It also wants Western sanctions on its economy to be eased.

The P5+1 and Iran made no breakthroughs in talks held in Moscow last month, but a meeting of experts in Istanbul in early July staved off a total breakdown of the diplomatic process, with Russia reporting some progress.