By George Jahn
ISTANBUL -- In a rare show of unity, Iran and the world's big powers on Saturday hailed their first nuclear meeting in more than a year as a key step toward further negotiations meant to ease international fears that Tehran may weaponize its nuclear program.
The one concrete reflection of progress was an agreement to meet again on May 23 in Baghdad, a venue put forward by Iran.
But huge hurdles still lie in the way of a common understanding of what Iran should do to end suspicions of its nuclear activities. Those barriers may prove insurmountable considering the differences between Tehran and the six nations trying to persuade it to compromise on its nuclear efforts.
Since revelations surfaced 10 years ago that it was secretly building a uranium enrichment program, Tehran has argued it has a right to enrichment to create reactor fuel under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and insisted it will never use that ability to create the fissile core of a nuclear warhead.
But the U.S. and other countries accuse Iran of repeatedly violating the treaty, and Tehran continues to expand enrichment despite four sets of U.N. Security Council resolutions and other penalties imposed by the U.S., Europe and others. Adding to concerns, it now is enriching uranium to levels closer to the grade needed for nuclear weapons in an underground bunker that could be impervious to attack.
The talks in Istanbul on Saturday saw the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany sitting at the same table with Iran. Knowing the road ahead is tough, both sides focused on what they said was the positive tone of the talks, in contrast to the previous round 14 months ago.
That last session broke up with no progress after Iranian negotiators refused to even consider discussing enrichment.
|Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, right, and Iran's Chief Nuclear Negotiator Saeed Jalili arrive for the meeting in Istanbul, Turkey.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who formally led the talks on behalf of the six powers, called the meeting "constructive and useful."
She expressed the hope they will lead to "a sustained process of serious dialogue, where we can take urgent practical steps to build confidence and lead on to compliance by Iran with all its international obligations."
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