Iran seeks concessions in Baghdad nuclear talks

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Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA, Yukiya Amano, center, from Japan speaks to the media after returning from Iran at the Vienna International Airport near Schwechat, Austria, on Tuesday, May 22, 2012. Amano says he has reached a deal with Iran on probing suspected work on nuclear weapons and adds that the agreement will "be signed quite soon." (AP Photo/Ronald Zak)

BAGHDAD (AP) — Iran and six world powers resumed talks Wednesday over Tehran's nuclear program, with the Iranians pushing for specific timetables and goals but Westerns leaders signaling they want more disclosures before offering rewards.

The push for milestones by Iran reflects apparent efforts to force concessions from the West on sanctions in exchange for gradually addressing international concerns over its nuclear ambitions. Tehran has tentatively agreed to allow U.N. inspectors to restart probes into a military base with suspected links to nuclear arms-related tests.

But no breakthrough accords are expected in the talks in Iraq's capital, suggesting that all sides are still shaping their strategies and the negotiation process is likely to be long.

That could allow U.S. and European allies to significantly tone down threats of military action. But it would likely bring objections from Israel, which claims that Iran is only trying to buy time to keep its nuclear fuel labs in full operation.

Tehran and Western diplomats alike hope to leave Baghdad with a clear framework for future talks and potential dealmaking, officials on both sides said. But neither side would identify any specific offers or benchmarks they wanted to see by the end of Wednesday's talks — the second round after dialogue resumed last month in Istanbul.

The U.S. and allies fear Iran could use its nuclear expertise to build atomic weapons. Iran claims it only seeks nuclear reactors for energy and research.

The Obama administration has been vague about its immediate goals, with officials saying the talks will gauge Iran's seriousness and explore elements of a possible agreement. A Western diplomat in Baghdad said the talks will focus on "confidence-building measures" that Iran's nuclear program is only being used for peaceful purposes.

"This approach includes concrete step-by-step, reciprocal measures aimed at near-term action," the Western diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the delicate process more candidly.

Washington has shown little willingness to bargain, despite a tentative agreement this week brokered by the International Atomic Energy Agency to inspect the Parchin military complex southeast of Tehran. That's where the U.N. believes Iran ran explosive tests in 2003 needed to set off a nuclear charge. Tehran says Parchin is not a nuclear site.

White House press secretary Jay Carney on Tuesday called the announcement a "step forward" and "a step in the right direction." But he stressed that the administration will "make judgments about Iran's behavior based on actions, not just promises or agreements."

Iran's top officials, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have repeated said that Iran does not seek nuclear arms and have called such weapons against Islamic principles.

During a visit to western Iran on Wednesday, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad evoked Khamenei's belief that "production and use of weapons of mass destruction is forbidden" by Islam.

"There is no room for these weapons in Iran's defense doctrine," he said at a gathering to commemorate victims of Iraqi chemical weapons during the 1980-88 war with Saddam Hussein's Iraq.

He claimed a "WMD-free world is honest and wish of the Islamic republic."

Negotiators from the U.S. and five other world powers arrived late Wednesday morning in Baghdad to build on discussions last month in Istanbul talks that were seen as an icebreaker more than a year after earlier talks collapsed, though no firm decisions were made.

Iranian diplomats, who arrived Monday in Baghdad, met with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki hours before the talks were to open.

Analyst Hassan Abedini, who is being briefed by Iran's delegation, said Tehran expects the U.S and other world powers to offer some concessions in return for the tentative agreement with the U.N.'s nuclear agency.

"Now the ball is in the (world powers') court to reciprocate it," Abedini said Wednesday.

He said Iran is demanding "a give-and-take approach," to the negotiations.

The Baghdad talks, involving the five permanent U.N. Security Council members plus Germany, could offer a test of how much the U.S. and allies are willing to bend from demands for Iran to halt all uranium enrichment and instead concentrate on just stopping the highest-grade production.

Iran is sticking to its right to enrich uranium as a signatory of U.N. nuclear treaties. The West and others fear the level of enrichment Iran is doing can be turned quickly into weapons-grade uranium.

At the heart of the debate are sanctions the West has placed on Iran to force it to the bargaining table — particularly on a European Union decision to cut all crude oil imports from Iran that are set to take effect July 1. The 27-nation EU accounts for just 18 percent of Iran's total oil exports.

Earlier this week, the U.S. Senate backed proposals for further sanctions on Iran, including requiring companies listed on U.S. stock exchanges to disclose any Iran-related business. U.S. and European measures already have targeted Iran's oil exports — its chief revenue source — and effectively blocked the country from international banking networks.

Oil fell to a seven-month low near $91 a barrel Wednesday in Asia on hopes of progress in the talks.


Associated Press writers Brian Murphy in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran, contributed to this report.