BAGHDAD -- After two days of withering and sometimes combative nuclear talks, Iran and six world powers put a positive spin on the outcome.
Both Iran and the so-called P5+1 group of world powers spoke of "some common ground" most importantly a willingness by Iran to address its sensitive 20 percent uranium enrichment program, which is technically not far from weapons grade that will drive the next round of talks set for mid-June in Moscow.
Yet even the official statements pointed toward a chasm of mismatched expectations that has only widened in Baghdad, in Iran's view at least.
The setback risks future deadlock that could trigger another Mideast war: Israel has threatened military strikes against Iran's nuclear program, if it is not verifiably limited to peaceful purposes.
"I think it was a complete failure, in terms of content," says an Iranian diplomat inside the talks, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
"The more they talk, the worse it gets," said the diplomat about one of the final sessions. "The atmosphere is like Baghdad's weather," a reference to the sandstorm that swept across the Iraqi capital yesterday, closing the airport.
WESTERN DEMANDS TOO FAR BEYOND IRAN'S RED LINES
Behind the scenes, diplomats from all sides say the P5+1's initial demands were so far beyond Iran's oft-stated red lines requiring a halt to all uranium enrichment including the lowest levels, for example, and shutting down Iran's deeply buried, UN-inspected enrichment site at Fordow that Iran barely mentioned its top priority of relief from crippling sanctions, aware that it would get no traction.
The disconnect was so severe that negotiators spent much of the unplanned second day of talks trying to craft a statement acceptable to Iran.
Indeed, Catherine Ashton, the European foreign policy chief leading talks for the P5+1 (the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany), in the statement described "very intense" discussions, and noted that "significant differences remain."
Likewise, Saeed Jalili, Iran's chief negotiator and secretary of its Supreme National Security Council, told a press conference that "talks were intensive and long," and "left unfinished."
Iranian flexibility on its 20 percent enriched uranium would depend on the P5+1 recognizing what Iran considers its "undeniable right" to enrich uranium, Mr. Jalili said.
That was not part of the P5+1 offer put forward in the first session in Baghdad. A senior US official said after the talks that recognizing such a right is "obviously not something we are prepared to do."
Iran would not bow to pressure, from sanctions or negotiators, Jalili told the Monitor in an interview after the talks.
He said the goodwill created since the first round in April, which broke a 15-month diplomatic dry spell, has been jeopardized by "approaches that were really destructive" a reference to a unanimous Senate vote on Monday to tighten sanctions, and a late-April executive order signed by President Obama to target cyber oppressors in Iran (and Syria)."To form this pathway to cooperation, they should avoid wrong attitude[s] and a destructive strategy" of more sanctions, Jalili told the Monitor. The two-track strategy led by the US and Europe grates on Iran as "illogically" seeking to both engage Iran while increasing pressure to compel Iranian compliance.
"The pressure strategy is over; it is outdated," said Jalili. "We think there are bases for cooperation, and we can find those bases of cooperation."