Iran, six powers seek nuclear advance after Ukraine crisis
Iran and six world powers will try to make headway toward resolving their nuclear dispute in talks starting in Vienna tomorrow, with Western officials hoping the uphill challenge will not be made even more difficult by the Ukraine crisis.
So far, diplomats say, there is little sign that the worst East-West confrontation since the Cold War will undermine the quest for a deal to end the long standoff over Iran's atomic activity and avert the threat of a Middle East war.
But unity among the powers on Iran may be tested in the meeting of their chief negotiators on the issue in the Austrian capital Vienna, with the four Western states and Russia at loggerheads over the future of Ukraine.
One Western envoy said there had been no apparent spillover from the Ukraine situation on expert level talks between Iran and the powers - the United States, France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia - held two weeks ago.
"We hope that will continue to be the case," the diplomat said. That was echoed by a senior US official, who said on Friday: "We all hope that the incredibly difficult situation in Ukraine will not create issues for this (Iran) negotiation."
Since then, the United States and European Union have imposed sanctions including asset freezes and travel bans on some senior Russian and Ukrainian officials after Crimea applied to join Russia on Monday following a secession referendum.
Russia is expected to be represented at the talks - which are likely to end late on Wednesday - by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov. European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton will lead the negotiations on behalf of the powers.
Despite a concerted push to end the decade-old nuclear dispute after a relative moderate, Hassan Rouhani, was elected president last year on a platform to end Iran's international isolation, big power divisions have reared their head before.
Russia and China only reluctantly supported four rounds of UN sanctions against Iran over its nuclear programme between 2006 and 2010, and condemned subsequent US and European sanctions that targeted the country's lifeline oil exports.