(MOSCOW) — A high stakes meeting between a group of world powers and Iran to discuss its nuclear program began Monday morning in Moscow. An official described the meetings so far as “business-like.”
This latest round of talks comes at a critical and sensitive time. Tough U.S. and European oil sanctions on Iran will go into effect within weeks, hitting Tehran in its most lucrative sector and increasing pressure.
The U.S. and other allies have also been trying to hold off Israel, which has shown impatience with diplomatic efforts to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and has warned of a pre-emptive strike.
The talks also come at a sensitive time for President Obama who, in a tight election year, must balance taking a tough stance on Iran, as his presumptive Republican opponent Mitt Romney has done, and the danger of upsetting oil markets that could derail economic recovery.
This is the third meeting with Iran this year. Officials are cautious about promising too much, but are hopeful that Iran will begin to negotiate the substance of a proposal by the group, which includes the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany.
At the last meeting in Baghdad, the U.S. and its allies put forth a proposal under which Tehran would end its efforts to enrich uranium at 20 percent; levels that many fear could help them perfect techniques to produce bomb-grade fuel. The proposal also calls on Iran to ship that fuel out of the country and cease activities at an underground nuclear site at Fordow, near the city of Qom, that might be impervious to attack.
Iran insists its nuclear program is for civilian purposes, but many in the international community fear it is a pretense for creating a nuclear weapon.
“Iran should come prepared to negotiate seriously and take concrete steps to address the unified proposal laid out by the E3+3 in Baghdad addressing all aspects of 20 percent enriched uranium, including activities at Fordow, and enrichment and stockpiling of 20 percent uranium throughout Iran,” a Western official said, referring to the negotiating group by one of its acronyms.
“The international community for its part is poised to take reciprocal steps in exchange for verifiable Iranian actions to address these concerns,” the Western official added.
Those steps could include the easing of sanctions and, according to reports, providing Iran with much needed spare parts for its aging civilian aircraft.
The latest talks are slated to take place for two days, but officials say they are prepared to stay longer if progress is being made.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Chieu Luu and Huizhong Wu, CNN
Ralph Ellis and Eliott C. McLaughlin, CNN