ISTANBUL (Washington Post) – Diplomatic efforts to end the eight-year-old impasse over Iran’s nuclear program ran aground Saturday after Iranian officials refused to bargain with the United States and other world powers unless they first agreed to conditions including an immediate halt to economic sanctions.
The standoff, played out over two days inside a picturesque palace on the shores of the Bosporus, ended with dueling diplomatic statements and deepening pessimism about prospects for solving one of the Obama administration’s most vexing security challenges.
There was no discussion of further talks in the near future.
“This is not the conclusion I had hoped for,” Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign-policy chief, said after the talks ended shortly past noon. She acknowledged that negotiators never came close to tackling the core issues, such as Iran’s uranium enrichment program, because of Iran’s insistence on concessions from the West.
“These preconditions are not a way to proceed,” Ashton said.
U.S. and European officials said, however, they were encouraged by the cohesion shown by the six countries on the other side of the negotiating table. Those countries – the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany – have often disagreed on Iran, but the group was in lock step in their opposition to Iran’s proposed conditions, according to U.S. and E.U. officials who participated in the talks.
The group’s unanimity could enhance prospects for a broad international agreement on future sanctions or other punitive measures to force concessions from Iran in the future, the officials said.
“The Iranians are tough negotiators, and their aim was to test for splits [among the six nations] and to see if they could extract concessions on their preconditions,” said a senior Obama administration official who participated in the meetings. “They left with a pretty clear impression of the unity of this group.”