The six world powers gathering here for nuclear talks beginning Friday are finding themselves divided over how best to curb Iran's ambitions while defusing the possibility of a new military confrontation in the volatile Middle East.
Officials from the six countries that will bargain with Iran have acknowledged in recent days significant differences over what a nuclear accord should look like and under what conditions Iran could be granted partial relief from international sanctions.
While united in insisting on substantial concessions from Iran, the six powers - the US, Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia - will likely not attempt to craft a joint proposal detailing specific steps Iran must take to assure the world that its nuclear intentions are peaceful, diplomats say.The lack of such a blueprint could allow greater flexibility in negotiations, though some officials acknowledge that Iran could try to exploit the divisions to gain advantage when the parties meet Saturday here in Turkey's largest city.
"We really do not have a common view of what's the real offer to be made to Iran to bring it to serious negotiations," said Russian deputy foreign minister Sergey Ryabkov.
He added that the six countries were united in wanting to avoid what he called a "disastrous" military strike on Iran by Israel.
Other diplomats played down the disputes.
"All are in agreement on the core principles," said a senior US official involved in high-level policy discussions on Iran. The official described bilateral talks leading up to Saturday's meeting as "transparent" and "among the most collegial that I have seen."
Still, the fractures among the six negotiating partners could add a further complication to what already was viewed as a long-shot effort to persuade Iran to accept strict limits on its nuclear programme.
In an exclusive partnership with The Washington Post.