Authors: Joshua Cohan
(WASHINGTON) -- Any hopes of a swift diplomatic conclusion to the standoff over Iran's nuclear program were dashed as the latest round of high stakes negotiations ended Tuesday with only a nebulous plan for future negotiations.
Catherine Ashton, the European Union's top foreign policy official, who has been leading negotiations for six world powers, described the talks as "tough and frank."
"It remains clear that there are significant gaps between the substance of the two positions," she told reporters after a long day of talks in a Moscow hotel.
The two sides agreed to hold a lower level meeting among technical experts in Istanbul on July 3, but made no plans for another high level meeting. Following the Istanbul meeting, deputy negotiators from both sides will meet and, depending on the outcome, lead negotiators could follow up with a phone call to decide whether to hold another full meeting.
Iran's lead negotiator, Dr Saeed Jalili, told reporters the Moscow talks were "more serious, more realistic" than previous rounds.
"On this path there is no reason or excuse to have doubts regarding the peaceful" nature of Iran's nuclear program, he said through an interpreter.
Jalili reiterated the Iranian position that it has the "inalienable right" to enrich uranium, something the world powers have been reluctant to recognize.
Ashton noted that this was the first time Iran had responded to the substance of a proposal put on the table at the last meeting in Baghdad. That plan called on Iran to end its enrichment of uranium at 20 percent, shutter its underground Fordow nuclear facility, and ship its stockpile of 20 percent uranium out of the country. In exchange sanctions on Iran could be eased, and Iran could receive badly needed spare parts for its aging civilian aircraft. It could also receive medical isotopes for treatment of cancer patients.
Western officials, however, said that the Iranian response, delivered in a lengthy PowerPoint presentation on Monday afternoon, also rehashed what were described as "old grievances" and raised new questions about the proposal.
Tehran insists its program is peaceful but the United States and its allies are not convinced, fearing it is a cover for plans to develop nuclear weapons.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio