by Ray Fleming

There was an amusing moment at the close of the joint press conference given by Baroness Ashton, the EU's foreign policy chief, and Iran's delegation leader Saeed Jalili, following the nuclear talks in Istanbul last Saturday.

Ashton made to leave the stage with Jalili until one of her staff reminded her that she should exit stage right and Mr Jalili stage left. Yes, the meeting had gone well -- but not that well. In fact all that was achieved was an agreement for a further meeting in Baghdad on May 23 at which a carefully prepared agenda drawn up in the meantime will be discussed -- but that is success for talks which have usually failed at the first stage. There was another interesting and little-reported moment. When Mr Jalili thanked the Russian delegate for Moscow's support, Sergei Rybakov said quickly: “Russia doesn't have to be thanked, but you need to do what we need you to do.” Predictably, Israel remains sceptical, believing that Iran is simply playing for time to get even closer to making a nuclear bomb.

President Obama is committed to giving sanctions and diplomacy a “last chance” before sterner measures have to be taken. The Western consensus on Saturday was that the Iranians understand these talks must be taken very seriously; if that proves correct the United States in particular must be ready to respond constructively.

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