Washington has warned that Saturday's meeting may be the last chance to try to persuade Iran to curtail enrichment at the negotiating table. The other option — a military strike by Israel — would risk drawing in the United States, for Washington a horror scenario even if were not an election year.
An official on one of the Western delegations described the six as an "extraordinarily unified group" on the matter at hand. That view was echoed by chief Russian negotiator Sergei Rybakov, who said the only difference with the West was whether sanctions were helping or hurting attempts to engage IranRussia and China are strategic and economic partners of Iran that have acted as a past brake on harsh sanctions, but a diplomat involved in the talks said they have had "significant influence" on the Iranians in nudging them toward a more conciliatory position.
Rybakov and senior Chinese negotiators met separately Friday with senior Iranian negotiator Ali Bagheri and came back with the message that Saturday's session is "not going to be easy," a diplomat said.
Another diplomat familiar with the talks said Iran conveyed through the Russians and the Chinese that it was interested in setting up a "roadmap" for future talks. But that term has negative connotations for diplomats trying to engage Iran.
Talks between the International Atomic Energy Agency meant to focus on allegations that Tehran was hiding nuclear weapons-related experiments foundered after months of back and forth that focused on a "roadmap" on how those investigations would proceed instead of the substance of what should be investigated. The agency has made no progress on that issue for more than three years.
Since 2002, Iran has weathered growing economic and political penalties to turn an experimental program into uranium enrichment that harnesses more than 9,000 machines. It moved last year from turning out just nuclear fuel grade material to additional higher-level enrichment at 20 percent that would allow it to make weapons-grade uranium more easily and quickly.
Adding to concerns, it has moved that higher-level operation into a mountainside bunker that may be safe from even the biggest bunker busting bombs.
George Jahn can be reached at http://twitter.com/georgejahn
Associated Press writers Nasser Karimi and Suzan Fraser in Istanbul, Juergen Baetz in Berlin and Mark S. Smith in Washington contributed to this report.
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