High-level nuclear talks between Iran and six world powers fizzled Tuesday, creating increased opportunity for Israel to use the setback to argue that military force is the only way to stop Tehran from developing atomic arms.
As she announced the indefinite pause in negotiations, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said they could be resumed -- but only if a low-level July 3 meeting of technical experts in Istanbul finds enough common ground to warrant such a step.
Officials involved in the talks from Western nations acknowledged huge differences between the two sides but insisted the diplomatic track had not been derailed. But the lack of progress in Moscow is sure to be seen by critics as a sign that talks are ineffective at persuading Tehran to curb uranium enrichment, a process that can make both reactor fuel and the core of nuclear warheads.
Strong comments by Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius of France, one of the countries at the table in Moscow, reflected Western frustration. He spoke of "the large gap between the two sides," and warned that "sanctions will continue to be toughened" to pressure Tehran into a nuclear compromise.
Iran says it is not interested in nuclear weapons. But Israel says Iran is stretching out the talks to move closer to the ability to make them, and it has threatened to attack the Islamic Republic as a last resort. Israel may argue that the negotiations are turning into "talks about talks" -- something the United States and its allies have vowed they will not tolerate.
Even if Israel does not strike, the talks' indefinite suspension could spell trouble for President Obama by giving Mitt Romney, his Republican rival in this year's race for the presidency, a wider platform for criticizing him for his alleged weak response to international concerns about Tehran's nuclear aims.