[The Moscow talks appeared rocky starting early in the day, when an Iranian diplomat described the atmosphere as “not positive” and said the discussions might even conclude on Monday, a day earlier than expected. Diplomats on all sides were unusually tight-lipped as they went in and out of negotiating sessions, heightening the sense of tension.]
By Ellen Barry
MOSCOW — A tense first day of talks between Iran and six world powers broke no new ground on Monday evening, offering little hope that the negotiations would defuse the standoff over Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.
Iran has signaled it may be willing to stop enriching uranium to 20 percent purity, which is considered a technical step short of bomb-grade, but it seeks a weighty political message in return: an acknowledgment from the international community that it has the right to enrich uranium.
It is also hoping for a rollback of the tough sanctions by the European Union and the United States scheduled to take effect in the coming weeks, which will further isolate Tehran from world oil and banking markets.
Iran received no such assurances on Monday from the six world powers, which consist of the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain — the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council — as well as Germany.
A spokesman for Catherine Ashton, who is the European Union’s top foreign policy official and the lead negotiator with Iran for the so-called P5-plus-1 countries, described Monday’s talks as “intense and tough.”
In an afternoon session, Iranian negotiators picked apart a package of enticements that the six world powers first offered last month in Baghdad, which includes parts for old American civilian aircraft and fuel for an Iranian nuclear reactor, with the promise of more sanctions relief in return for specific Iranian actions to come into compliance over time.
“They responded to our package of proposals from Baghdad, but in doing so, brought up lots of questions and well-known positions, including past grievances,” said Ms. Ashton’s spokesman, Michael Mann. “We are not there. We have to have further discussions tomorrow, based upon overnight reflections.”
Analysts said the six powers might be willing to relax one of the sanctions that is threatening Iran: a provision that bans insurers based in Europe from covering ships that carry Iranian oil anywhere in the world.
The measure would significantly reduce Iran’s shipments to Asia, which make up most of the 2.2 million barrels it still exports daily. It met with resistance last month from Britain, a center of the marine insurance industry.
Cliff Kupchan, an Iran analyst at Eurasia Group, a consulting firm, said the ban could be carried out on schedule and then eased month by month if Iran were seen to be complying with the P5-plus-1’s central demands: ceasing enrichment of uranium to 20 percent and exporting its stockpile of the material.
“I can’t think of anything else that they could give, or that has been discussed among people involved,” Mr. Kupchan said.
Mr. Mann, Ms. Ashton’s spokesman, said the six powers were not offering to delay or waive sanctions until Iran had proved its willingness to comply with international agreements.
“Sanctions policy by definition is always under review, but can only be eased in response to real changes on the ground, so there is no question that our sanctions will come into force on the first of July,” he said.
The Moscow talks appeared rocky starting early in the day, when an Iranian diplomat described the atmosphere as “not positive” and said the discussions might even conclude on Monday, a day earlier than expected. Diplomats on all sides were unusually tight-lipped as they went in and out of negotiating sessions, heightening the sense of tension.
But the Iranian assessment brightened somewhat by evening: Ali Baqeri, deputy chief of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, said the discussion had been “very serious and constructive” when Iran had the opportunity to detail its complaints.
Much seemed to hang on a meeting on Monday night between the head of the Iranian delegation, Saeed Jalili, and Nikolai Patrushev, the secretary of Russia’s National Security Council and a former head of the Federal Security Service.
A breakdown in the talks would increase the risk of a new war in the Middle East, after months of tension over whether Israel, which considers Iran a threat to its existence, will carry out a military strike against Iran’s nuclear program. Iran is in violation of Security Council resolutions demanding that it suspend enrichment, and it has failed to ease concerns that its nuclear program is aimed at building a bomb, an accusation Iran denies.
“We all have to remember what we are doing here,” said a Western official shortly before the talks began, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the talks. “The international community’s concern is to stop Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. That is what it is fundamentally about.”
Iranian news media portrayed the talks in Moscow in an unflattering light, with the Fars News Agency reporting that the proceedings demonstrated that Western powers were not interested in reaching a comprehensive solution. Without directly referring to the negotiations, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, released a speech castigating Iran’s enemies, saying their “misplaced arrogance and grandiosity will lead to nowhere.”
Iran is negotiating under duress because of the intensifying sanctions, which Ayatollah Khamenei has characterized as “economic jihad.” The value of Iran’s currency, the rial, has dropped by 50 percent over the past 10 months, and inflation of food products exceeds 40 percent, said Mr. Kupchan, the analyst. The West, convinced that sanctions have induced Tehran to negotiate, is threatening to squeeze Iran’s economy further.
Russian experts have played down chances for a breakthrough, saying domestic politics in Iran and the United States make it difficult for either to compromise.
“We must understand that for President Barack Obama, neither a final positive or negative solution is possible because he will face criticism for either one,” said Vladimir Sazhin, a top Iran expert with the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences. “With Iran, the situation coincides completely with the situation in the United States. Iran doesn’t need one decision or the other.”
Thomas Erdbrink contributed reporting from Tehran, and Alan Cowell from London.
[The announcement, made over the weekend, is a blow to polio vaccination efforts in Pakistan, one of just three countries where the disease is still endemic, accounting for 198 new cases last year — the highest rate in the world, followed by Afghanistan and Nigeria. The tribal belt, which has suffered decades of poverty and conflict, is the largest reservoir of the disease. A Unicef spokesman said health workers had hoped to reach 161,000 children younger than 5 in a vaccination drive scheduled to begin on Wednesday.]
By Declan Walsh
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A Pakistani Taliban commander has banned polio vaccinations in North Waziristan, in the tribal belt, days before 161,000 children were to be inoculated. He linked the ban to American drone strikes and fears that the C.I.A. could use the polio campaign as cover for espionage, much as it did with Shakil Afridi, the Pakistani doctor who helped track Osama bin Laden.
The commander, Hafiz Gul Bahadur, said that the vaccinations would be banned until the Central Intelligence Agency stopped its drone campaign, which has been focused largely on North Waziristan.
Mr. Bahadur said the decision had been taken by the shura-e-mujahedeen, a council that unites the myriad jihadi factions in the area, including Taliban, Qaeda and Punjabi extremists.
The announcement, made over the weekend, is a blow to polio vaccination efforts in Pakistan, one of just three countries where the disease is still endemic, accounting for 198 new cases last year — the highest rate in the world, followed by Afghanistan and Nigeria.
The tribal belt, which has suffered decades of poverty and conflict, is the largest reservoir of the disease. A Unicef spokesman said health workers had hoped to reach 161,000 children younger than 5 in a vaccination drive scheduled to begin on Wednesday.
That is likely to be canceled, at a time when officials felt they were making progress. So far this year, Pakistan has recorded 22 new polio cases, compared with 52 in the same period last year.
The Taliban announcement is also likely to rekindle controversy surrounding Dr. Afridi, who was recently convicted by a tribal court and sentenced to 33 years in prison.
In March and April 2011, Dr. Afridi ran a vaccination campaign in Abbottabad that was intended to determine covertly whether Bin Laden lived in a house in the city. Dr. Afridi failed to obtain a DNA sample, a senior American official said, but did help establish that Bin Laden’s local protector, known as the “courier,” was inside the Bin Laden compound.
Dr. Afridi was arrested three weeks after an American Navy SEAL team raided the house on May 2, 2011, and killed the Qaeda leader.
American officials said Dr. Afridi had been working with the C.I.A. for several years, at a time when he was leading polio vaccination efforts in Khyber Agency, a corner of the tribal belt that harbors a rare strain of the disease.
Western aid workers have criticized the C.I.A. for recruiting medical personnel and have complained of harsh restrictions imposed by suspicious Pakistani authorities. American officials say Dr. Afridi was targeting a mutual enemy of Pakistan and the United States.
The Taliban statement suggests that suspicion about health workers has spread to militant groups, which are prepared to use the issue for propaganda purposes.
Despite the challenges of North Waziristan, a hub of Taliban and Qaeda fighters, Unicef says that 143,000 of the area’s 161,000 children younger than 5 were reached in the last round of oral vaccinations from June 4 to 6. Health officials say that in active polio zones it is vital that children receive several doses of vaccine over time.
Dr. Muhammad Sadiq, the surgeon general for North Waziristan, said he had already received Taliban orders to cancel the vaccination drive planned for Wednesday and Thursday. “Under these circumstances,” he said in a telephone interview, “we cannot continue.”
Din Muhammad, a journalist in South Waziristan, said the main Taliban commander there, Mullah Nazir, was also planning to block polio vaccinations.
The bans may be a result of paranoia about the American drone strikes, which have increased in frequency and accuracy in the past year. Two weeks ago, American officials said that a strike killed Abu Yahya al-Libi, Al Qaeda’s deputy leader, at a farmhouse near Mir Ali in North Waziristan.
In his statement, Mr. Bahadur, the local warlord, said there was a “strong possibility of spying on mujahedeen for the U.S. during the polio vaccination campaign; one such example is Dr. Shakil Afridi.”
Dr. Afridi is in prison in Peshawar, where the authorities have acknowledged he faces death threats from fellow inmates. An appeal filed by his family was to be heard on Wednesday.
Ihsanullah Tipu Mehsud contributed reporting from Islamabad, and Scott Shane from Washington.