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No breakthrough expected as nuclear talks with Iran resume

EU oil embargo to start in 2 weeks

MOSCOW - Iran and diplomats from six nations will meet Monday in Moscow for talks about the Persian Gulf country’s nuclear program that policy officials say probably won’t yield enough progress to end the threat of military strikes.

Negotiators for China, France, Germany, Russia, Britain, and the United States will meet their Iranian counterparts at Russia’s Foreign Ministry for the third round of talks in three weeks.

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The international group will continue to seek Iran’s commitment to suspend production of uranium enriched to 20 percent while the Islamic republic presses for relief from sanctions set to tighten on July 1, when a European Union oil embargo kicks in.

“A breakthrough in Moscow is probably not likely,’’ said Greg Thielmann, a former deputy director at the State Department who now works at the Arms Control Association in Washington. “While it is important to be realistic about the challenges the negotiators confront, it is also important to note that we are moving along the path that must be followed to prevent both a nuclear-armed Iran and another war.’’

After April talks in Istanbul and negotiations last month in Baghdad, the two-day round that starts Monday takes place in one of the last remaining capitals that has shown support for Iran’s atomic work.

Even as it supports the United Nations inquiry into Iran’s nuclear activities, Russia built the country’s only functioning atomic reactor in Bushehr and has criticized unilateral sanctions against the Gulf nation.

“In Baghdad, Iran’s preliminary agreement to discuss the possibility of keeping its uranium-enrichment efforts below 20 percent gave hope that the negotiations could lead to practical results,’’ Russia’s former attache to Iran, Nikolay Kozhanov, wrote in a June 14 analysis for the Washington Institute.

On May 25, the UN International Atomic Energy Agency said in its quarterly verification report that Iran increased its stockpile of higher-enriched uranium by a third. The heavy metal purified to 20 percent can make medical isotopes. Only a small technical step is required to enrich uranium to the weapons-grade 90 percent level.

Iran is facing growing pressure from economic sanctions as well as from statements by Israeli leaders that their patience for diplomacy is limited. Major world powers will impose “a certain time limit’’ on efforts to reach a negotiated settlement with the Islamic republic over its nuclear program, a European diplomat said on condition of anonymity.

“Tehran appears to bank on a reelected President Obama displaying more flexibility and an economically incapacitated Europe fearing the adverse consequences of tougher sanctions,’’ the Crisis Group in Brussels wrote in a June 15 policy brief. “None of this is likely. If prospects for a deal fade, mutual escalation is more probable and pressure by Israel for a military strike may intensify.’’

Tensions around Iran, the second-biggest producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Nations, have sent crude prices higher this year.

This year’s presidential election in the United States, along with the 2013 vote for a new Iranian president, complicate the diplomacy, said Kozhanov.

President Obama and Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad “have very limited room to maneuver,’’ Kozhanov said. “Any action on the nuclear front could potentially improve their opponents’ chance. Both sides will probably try to secure a status quo in the nuclear issue until 2013.’’

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