Talks between Iran and six world powers have snagged over dueling proposals concerning Tehran’s nuclear program, a tug-of-war that pits international concerns about the Islamic Republic’s potential to build atomic weapons against enforcing crippling sanctions on its people.
The daylong back-and-forth in Baghdad on Wednesday focussed largely on whether the current enrichment level of Iran’s uranium production is a red line the US and other powers will not permit for fear it could become warhead-grade material.
At stake is the threat an Iran armed with nuclear weapons could pose to its neighbours. The US and Israel have indicated readiness to attack Iran if diplomacy and sanctions fail to curb its nuclear programme. Both suspect that Iran is aiming to build nuclear weapons, and Israel believes it would be a prime target.
Iran insists its nuclear program is peaceful.
The impasse threatened to dissolve the most hopeful chance of detente in nearly a decade, although both sides agreed to continue negotiations into Thursday.
Western negotiators presented a package Wednesday that called on Tehran to place a freeze on its enrichment of uranium to 20%, considered a short technical step away from bomb grade. In exchange they offered benefits, including medical isotopes, some nuclear safety cooperation and spare parts for civilian airliners, much needed in Iran.
But they snubbed Iranian calls for an immediate easing of significant economic sanctions imposed on Tehran for flouting UN Security Council resolutions that demand the suspension of all enrichment.
Iran brought a potent bargaining chip to the table, tentatively agreeing on the eve of the negotiations to allow UN inspectors into a military complex suspected of conducting nuclear arms-related tests.