World and Nation

Iran threatens delays in talks on its nuclear program

Iran raised the possibility Wednesday of delaying or canceling the resumption of nuclear talks with the big powers, scheduled in less than two weeks, because of what it called dithering by the other side in holding preliminary meetings aimed at ensuring some success.

The warning, made by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the office of Saeed Jalili, Iran’s chief negotiator in the talks, came as its ambassador to the U.N. nuclear monitoring agency accused some of its inspectors of espionage.

Taken together, the messages suggest that Iran’s leaders have decided to reduce expectations that the negotiations, which resumed in April after a 15-month suspension, would produce an agreement on the country’s disputed nuclear program, or at least lead to an easing of the onerous sanctions imposed on Iran by the United States and the European Union. The sanctions are scheduled to turn more severe July 1, when the European Union bans all imports of Iranian oil, the country’s most important export.

The warning of a possible delay in the next round of talks, to be held in Moscow on June 18 and 19, was conveyed by Jalili in a letter to his counterpart, Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign policy chief and chief negotiator for the big powers: Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States.

Iran’s official Islamic Republic News Agency, which reported the letter, said Jalili had expressed irritation over what he called “the EU failure to arrange experts’ meeting led by deputies of the negotiators to draft agenda of the talks.” The agency said this had “created an atmosphere of doubt and ambiguity for success of the Moscow talks.”

Other Iranian news agencies said that Jalili’s deputy, Ali Baqeri, had sent two letters to his counterpart in Ashton’s office, Helga Schmid, requesting such a meeting and had received no response.

“The success of the Moscow meeting depends on making the necessary preparations and drawing up a comprehensive agenda,” the Mehr News Agency quoted Baqeri’s letter as saying.

Ahmadinejad, who was in Beijing for regional cooperation talks, also expressed irritation, saying Ashton’s office had failed to keep its promises.

“We believe that the West is after concocting excuses and wasting time,” Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying by Iran’s Press TV website.

A spokeswoman for Ashton, Maja Kocijancic, said in an emailed response for comment that Ashton had replied to the letter from Jalili and that she saw no need for further preparatory meetings.

“We are not against technical meetings in principle, but the time is not right,” Kocijancic said.

Western diplomats said they believed that the Iranian requests for such meetings were part of a deliberate effort to bog down the process. Ashton and fellow negotiators have said they have no patience for stalling tactics or “talks for the sake of talks.”