The discussions, which were described by EU foreign policy chief Baroness Ashton as “detailed” and “substantive”, revolved mainly around a new Iranian proposal which one Western diplomat called “very helpful”.
Iran’s position remains officially under wraps but, according to leaks, it includes limiting its level of uranium enrichment, using less centrifuges at the enrichment plants and agreeing to surprise visits by international inspectors.
In return, Iran expects a significant reduction of the sanctions against it.
While such a deal may be acceptable to some of the members of the P5+1 group (US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany), it falls short of Israel’s demand that Iran end uranium enrichment altogether and ship the uranium already enriched out of the country.
The next round of talks will take place on November 7 in Geneva and will be preceded by a meeting of nuclear and financial experts to discuss the details of a possible agreement linking enrichment and sanctions.
The Iranians also held separate meetings with their US and British counterparts and said that they would not be giving up their right to enrich uranium. They say that this is permitted under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, a claim that is disputed by the UN.
Iran’s Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said that his country’s aim was “to provide confidence about the peaceful nature of our nuclear programme”.
Israeli diplomatic sources said they had not been expecting any breakthrough in this round of talks and were sceptical about the chances of an agreement being reached in the next round in Geneva due to the long list of issues still in contention.
At a Knesset speech on Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued a stern warning, saying: “Iran can quickly enrich uranium at 3.5 per cent to 90 per cent — which is necessary for a nuclear weapon. Iran is currently willing to give up on 20 per cent — which is no longer important — in exchange for serious easing of sanctions. Iran is willing to give a little to get a lot, if not everything.”
Mr Netanyahu warned that “it would be a historic mistake to lift the sanctions just before they are really effective”.
Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, who is close to the prime minister, set out on Wednesday the basic details of a plan that Israel could agree to. The plan, he said, would allow “Iran to have a nuclear reactor for peaceful aims such as creating energy. The enrichment capabilities must be dismantled.”
He added that Israel is both hopeful and sceptical: “The Israeli government is watching the talks with hope and concern. Hope because we have not closed the door to a diplomatic solution. If there is a solution serious enough that pushes Iran away from military nuclear capability, we will gladly agree to that. But with concern, since we fear that Geneva 2013 will become Munich 1938.”