Iranian negotiators have rejected proposals by six world powers to curb Tehran’s nuclear programme.
Instead they demanded answers to their own counter-offer meant to alleviate concerns about the Islamic Republic’s ability to build atomic weapons.
Still, the negotiations did not appear in danger of collapse. Envoys added extra hours to their meetings as a sandstorm closed Baghdad airport.
The open channels between Iran and the six-nation bloc – the five permanent Security Council members plus Germany – are seen as the most hopeful chances of restoring relations between Washington and Tehran in years. They also could push back threats of military action that have shaken oil markets and brought worries of triggering a wider Middle East conflict.
Saeed Jalili, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, demanded an overhaul to the plan put forward by the world powers after the Baghdad talks began.
Iran went into the talks seeking the West scale back on its sanctions, which have targeted Iran’s critical oil exports.
Mr Jalili conveyed his concerns in a meeting with European Union foreign policy chief Baroness Ashton, who is formally leading the talks, and an aide to Mrs Ashton said “some progress was made”.
At the heart of the issue are two different proposals. On one side is an incentive package by the six-nation group – the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany – that seeks to halt the most sensitive part of Iran’s nuclear fuel production.
Iran, in turn, wants the US and Europe to ease harsh economic sanctions on its oil exports in return for pledges to give wider access to UN inspectors.
In exchange, the world powers offered benefits, including medical isotopes, some nuclear safety co-operation and spare parts for civilian airliners. But they snubbed Iranian calls for an immediate easing of significant economic sanctions.