Middle East: Iran nuclear talks set to begin; no sign of ceasefire in Syria

Updated On: Apr 10, 2012

A new round of talks on Iran's nuclear programme is set to begin in Istanbul this week. The talks will bring together Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council — the United States, Britain, China, France and Russia — plus Germany. Elsewhere in the Middle East, Syria faces a deadline on Tuesday to withdraw its forces from urban areas under a ceasefire deal. But the US says the Syrian government has shown no sign of complying.

Iran Nuclear Talks

The negotiations on Iran's nuclear programme are a resumption of talks that failed in January 2011. The new talks come as Iran faces tightening economic sanctions led by the United States and Europe, including a European oil embargo that will come into force in July.

There has been some confusion over the date of the meeting, with Iranian media reporting that talks will begin on Friday 13 April, while a European Union official said the meetings would take place on Saturday 14 April.

A second round of talks will be held in Baghdad if progress is made in the initial negotiations.

On Monday, a senior Iranian official hinted that Iran would consider limits on its home-grown stockpile of enriched uranium, an apparent modest compromise to partly meet Western concerns. But other Iranian officials have been quoted as taking a harder stance, which seems to reflect continued debate among the Iranian elite over the handling of the planned negotiations.

So far Iran has produced only about 100 kilograms of 20-percent-enriched uranium, not enough to produce a nuclear weapon, but it has announced plans to increase production sharply in coming months. Iran has insisted that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, while Western leaders say they suspect that Tehran is seeking the capability to build nuclear weapons.

Report: Iran Sends Mixed Signals Ahead of Nuclear Talks [New York Times, 9 April 2012]

Analysis: U.S., Israel Need to Stay in Sync on Iran Talks [Wall Street Journal, 10 April 2012]

No Ceasefire in Syria?

A White House spokesman says there is no sign of Syria abiding by an international plan to bring fighting to an end.

Under the peace deal, Syrian troops were to begin withdrawing from cities by Tuesday. But US officials said the situation seemed to have worsened. Monday proved to be one of the bloodiest days of the uprising, with activists reporting more than 100 dead.

The international community has intensified efforts to urge the regime to abide by the plan. According to a BBC report, the UN Security Council is expecting a letter from UN and Arab League envoy Kofi Annan on Tuesday regarding the Syrian government's implementation of the withdrawal.

Mr Annan is on his way to Iran, where he is expected to try to convince the Iranians to lean on the Syrian government to stop the bloodshed.

Meanwhile, China has urged Syria to honour its commitments and to implement the peace deal. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem is due on Tuesday to meet Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Moscow.

The truce plan has been in danger for days, since the Syrian government said it would keep its side of the bargain only if rebels gave written guarantees they would also stop fighting, a condition rejected out by the rebels.

On Monday, violence spilled across Syria's borders with Turkey and Lebanon. An incident on the Turkish border left two dead and many injured. Separately, a Lebanese cameraman was shot dead on Lebanon's northern border with Syria.

Report: No signs of peace as Syria troop withdrawal deadline dawns [Channel NewsAsia (AFP), 10 April 2011]

Report: Syria 'failing to abide by truce', says US [BBC, 10 April 2011]

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