While Russia warned that the differences between Iran and six world powers over Tehran’s nuclear program should not be “overblown,” the United States on Friday called on Iran to show “seriousness” one the eve of crunch talks in Istanbul.
After a 15-month hiatus, officials from the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany (known as the P5+1) will meet with Iranian counterparts in Istanbul on Saturday.
“We want to be constructive and we don’t want to overblow the differences,” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told reporters following separate bilateral talks with his Iranian and Chinese counterparts.
He said that the “final destination in the near future” of Iran’s negotiations with the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany was the removal of U.N. and Western sanctions imposed on the Islamic republic.
“We really need to find a middle course ... The negotiations are about renewing confidence,” Ryabkov said.
Russia and China have traditionally been more lenient on Iran than their Western counterparts on the U.N. Security Council, although they too have expressed frustration at Tehran’s behavior and have backed several rounds of sanctions.
The West and Israel, the sole if undeclared nuclear power in the Middle East, suspect Iran of trying to build atomic weapons under the guise of a civilian nuclear program, a charge Tehran denies.
Meanwhile, U.S. deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes said on Air Force One that Washington wanted a “positive environment” in the talks between Iran and world powers in which Tehran showed “seriousness” about moving forward with dialogue.
Iran’s English-language state television, Press TV, cited sources close to Iran’s delegation as saying Tehran saw “few encouraging points” in the remarks of U.S. and European officials. It did not elaborate.
Iran, which has promised to put forward “new initiatives” in Istanbul, says its nuclear program is peaceful and has repeatedly ruled out suspending it.
Iran’s deputy negotiator Ali Baqeri held separate talks with senior Chinese and Russian officials in Istanbul, and the six powers met internally to coordinate tactics. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman headed the U.S. delegation.
“We hope that this first round will produce a conducive environment for concrete results through a sustained process,” European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton’s spokesman, Michael Mann, said in an email.
Western diplomats have expressed cautious optimism that Iran, which has seen its economically vital oil exports squeezed by increasingly tough sanctions, may finally be ready to discuss curbs to its nuclear program to relieve the pressure.
“I don’t think they would come if they weren’t serious,” one diplomat said, adding that a second meeting could take place next month in Baghdad, a location proposed by Iran.