The much-awaited new round of diplomacy over Iran's nuclear programme will have to be awaited a while longer. Tehran has declared itself ready for talks this month, but the office of the EU foreign affairs chief, Cathy Ashton, whose job it is to arrange the negotiations, has yet to get a clear Iranian response to its suggestion of a mid-January meeting in Istanbul. That timetable, diplomats say, is now likely to be pushed back. Ashton's spokesman, Michael Mann, issued a statement saying only:
Contacts are still ongoing. No decision has been taken. We have offered dates and venue in January and are still expecting an Iranian reaction to it.
Western diplomats point to disagreements at the top of the Tehran leadership over the wisdom of entering new talks as the most likely reason for the delay and mixed messages. It is not hard, however, to imagine reasons for Iranian ambivalence.
The Obama administration has only recently announced its new picks for secretaries of state and defence, and they have yet to be confirmed by the Senate. It will clearly take some time for the remodeled Obama cabinet to reformulate its negotiating stance and the sounds emanating from Washington suggest that there will be limited change to what was on the table last year, which did not include significant sanctions relief.
So it may make sense for Iran to bide its time until Washington makes up its mind on what it wants to offer. By then of course, the Iranians will be gearing up for their own elections