By Jeremy Herb
The third round of Iranian nuclear talks this year resumed on Monday, but reports from Moscow were not optimistic that there would be progress in the latest nuclear negotiations.
Tehran is seeking relief from economic sanctions set to hit Iran from both the United States and European Union before it curtails its nuclear activity, The Associated Press reports, a move that the West is unlikely to agree to.
The P5+1 group — the five permanent U.N. Security Council nations plus Germany — is pushing Iran to stop enriching uranium at 20 percent, the level just below weapons grade.
But the United States is unlikely to lift sanctions targeting the Iranian central bank, and the Senate passed additional sanctions last month. The European Union has a ban on Iranian oil that’s set to take effect in July.
The sanctions are harming Iran’s economy, which President Obama argues has brought Iran back to the negotiating table, but thus far Tehran has not made any moves to stop enriching uranium.
While the West has said the continuation of talks with Iran is a positive sign — the two-day Moscow talks are the third meeting this year — there’s been increasing chatter in Congress and elsewhere that more substantive progress is needed this time around or the talks will not be successful.
A European Union spokesman said the start of the talks Monday had an atmosphere that was “fine, business-like and good,” according to Reuters.
Obama, who will likely discuss the Iranian nuclear program when he meets with Russian President Vladmir Putin later Monday, has to balance his diplomatic moves with Iran against congressional pressure and the threat of an Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear program.
Obama has been criticized in Congress and by GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney for being too soft on Iran, and many in Congress say the negotiations are a waste of time.
Israel has also warned that the time for diplomatic solutions in Iran is running short, as its leaders have weighed a strike on Iran’s nuclear program. Obama argued that the diplomatic window is still open when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited earlier this year, though Obama said all options remain on the table.
Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful, energy-producing purposes only, while the United States and its allies suspect Iran is seeking a nuclear weapon.