Diplomats were struggling today to salvage international talks over Iran's nuclear ambitions after the Iranian delegation signalled it would not negotiate over the most controversial part of its programme, uranium enrichment.
Speaking to journalists outside a mosque in Istanbul, where the talks are taking place, an Iranian official said: "We appreciate the fact that our counterparts are not going to bring up the issue of enrichment."
Western officials said the talks had to include Iran's "obligations under UN security council resolutions" which demand suspension of enrichment. It is sensitive because the process can produce both fuel for power stations, Iran's stated intention, and fissile material for nuclear warheads, the focus of western suspicions.
European diplomats said they were prepared to talk about restoring trust through confidence-building measures, such as a deal to exchange Iranian uranium for French-made fuel rods first proposed in 2009, but that it had to be in the context of Iranian willingness to compromise on its overall nuclear aspirations.
The talks came to a critical moment this evening as Lady Ashton, the European foreign policy chief, tried to persuade Iran's principal nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, to have a bilateral meeting with the head of the US delegation, William Burns, over the details of Iran's nuclear programme.
Officials from six nations - the US, Britain, China, Russia, France and Germany - held a preliminary round of talks with Jalili in Geneva last month, which were inconclusive. Both sides delivered speeches on their positions but did not enter a dialogue.
"Any repetition of Geneva would be seen as a failure. There is no question," said a European diplomat. "But in a way, there can't be a repeat of Geneva, because there, there was a general amicable atmosphere through all the empty speeches. If the same happens in Istanbul, there would be a lot more frustration."