Iran nuclear talks: Why all sides kept positive (CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR) By Scott Peterson ISTANBUL, TURKEY 04/15/12)
CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR
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The talks Saturday between Iran and six major powers featured the
most positive atmosphere in nearly a decade.
In the forlorn panoply of Iran´s nuclear negotiations with world
powers over the years, the positive atmosphere that prevailed during
Saturday talks in Istanbul was the best in nearly a decade.
The purpose of these talks coming after a 15-month hiatus since the
failed meeting in January 2011 was limited to testing Iran´s
willingness to seriously engage over a nuclear program that has
prompted an international crisis.
Both sides have reason to engage: Iran is feeling the pressure of
increasingly Draconian sanctions that are damaging its economy, and
wants to have them removed while easing the chances of an Israeli or
American military strike.
And the so-called P5+1 (the United States, Russia, China, England,
France, and Germany) represented by EU foreign policy chief Catherine
Ashton, want to test Iran´s own declarations rejecting nuclear
weapons as a "sin," want limits on Iran´s nuclear work and intrusive
inspections, and to avoid a catastrophic war.
The result was 10 hours of intensive talks, in which all sides were
determined to ensure a second round to discuss real details, now set
for May 23 in Baghdad.
Ashton: talks ´constructive and useful´
Speaking after the talks, Ms. Ashton said they were "constructive and
useful," and the start of a "sustained process of serious dialogue."
One senior American official said the Iranians "brought ideas to the
table," but that the US would continue its dual-track policy of
pressure and diplomacy.
"Dialogue is not sufficient for any sanctions relief," the US
official said. "One has to get to concrete actions that are
Perhaps most important to the Iranians may have been the agreement
that the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) is the framework to
ensure that Iran´s nuclear programs are peaceful.
The NPT, Ashton said, will form "a key basis for what must be serious
engagement, to ensure all the obligations under the NPT are met by
Iran while fully respecting Iran´s right to the peaceful use of
Iran: right to enrich
Iran´s chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, made clear
that "right" meant that Iran would continue uranium enrichment inside
Iran activities that UN Security Council resolutions currently
require suspended until Iran resolves outstanding questions about
possible past weapons-related work.
The Europeans and Americans will likewise rely on that formulation to
push Iran to accept a most intrusive inspection regime to satisfy
themselves Iran is not moving toward a bomb.
"We said that something should be done to gain and obtain the
confidence of Iranians," Mr. Jalili told the Monitor in an interview
after the talks.
"The important point is that we believe the American people are
paying a severe cost for [believing] false and imaginary threats"
about the dangers of Iran, said Jalili. War fears have helped boost
oil prices, and therefore the price at the pump.
Iran´s negotiator: ´great opportunity´
Iran´s stated opposition to weapons of mass destruction including
nuclear weapons is a "great opportunity," Jalili said. The Iranian
negotiating team detected significant change at the negotiating table.
"They should not speak to Iranians with the language of threats and a
strategy of pressure," Jalili told the Monitor. "We consider it a
step forward, and a positive one, when after 15 months they
themselves change their attitudes and approach, and say we want to
have talks for cooperation."
On the European and American side, there was a belief that it was
Iran that had dramatically adjusted its approach. In some previous
talks, Iran refused to discuss its nuclear program at all; in January
last year, two preconditions imposed by the Iranian side that the
P5+1 accept Iranian enrichment at the outset, and the lifting of UN
sanctions scuttled the talks before an agenda could even be set.
In the new attempts to resolve Iran´s nuclear issue, Ashton said,
Iran and the P5+1 agreed to be "guided by [a] step-by-step approach
For Iran that would mean a swift lifting of sanctions with every step
that it took. But yesterday US and European diplomats indicated that
sanctions processes including an oil sales embargo, due to fully
come into effect on July 1 will continue.
US skepticism remains
"If you hear skepticism from me, and wariness, we haven´t talked to
the Iranians for 15 months," said the senior US administration
"There is no reason to believe, yet, that we will make all the
progress that we want to make," said the US official. "There is
reason to believe there is an environment that may be conducive to
doing that, but it has not been fully tested yet. We do not yet have
those concrete actions-for-actions that have been agreed to, and
there is an enormous amount of work ahead.... We have a lot of
distrust to overcome on both sides."
The US team was led by US Undersecretary of State for Political
Affairs Wendy Sherman, who in the past was involved in negotiations
with North Korea.
One positive Iranian signal before the talks was a profile of Ms.
Sherman by the hardline Mashregh News website, which had
an "unusually mild" tone, according to a translation by Tehran
Bureau. The story said Sherman "is known in diplomatic circles as
the ´door opener.´"
Veterans of Iran´s past negotiation teams said they could not
remember such positive messages, since perhaps the 2003 talks at
which Iran agreed with European negotiators to suspend their nascent
enrichment program as they did until 2005.
But that glow from both sides on Saturday was only an opening gambit,
said one Iranian diplomat close to the talks. At future sessions, he
said, "It is going to be very difficult."
At stake in the second round in Baghdad will be Iran´s small but
growing stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium which is just a
few technical steps off the 90 percent needed for weapons but which
Iran says it is producing because that level is required for fuel for
a small reactor in Tehran producing medical isotopes for 800,000
Iranian officials have said they can limit that 20 percent work once
they have enough for the fuel, which the West has not yet agreed to
sell to Iran.
Iran has much larger stockpiles of 3.5 percent low-enriched uranium,
suitable for fuel for power reactors. The P5+1 will almost certainly
try to put caps on that work in any deal.
Khamenei: nukes a sin
One new feature of the talks, and of the European press spin, have
been recent statements by Iran´s supreme religious leader Ayatollah
Ali Khamenei, declaring nuclear weapons a sin.
Ayatollah Khamenei has stated that many times over many years, even
issuing a fatwa in 2005 saying that making or stockpiling nuclear
weapons was un-Islamic. But until now those declarations have had
little apparent effect on US and European decision-makers.
In recent weeks, both US President Barack Obama and Secretary of
State Hillary Clinton expressed hope that nuclear progress with Iran
could be built around that official rejection of nuclear weapons.
As Jalili prepared to address a press conference after the talks on
Saturday, aides hung a large canvas banner behind the podium, with
pictures of five nuclear scientists assassinated in Tehran in the
last two years.
Above a map of Iran was written a common official slogan: "Nuclear
energy for all; nuclear weapons for none."
Jalili then described the talks as "successful," and noted that
Khamenei´s fatwa was "welcomed" by the P5+1.
That statement "opposing the use and production of nuclear bombs was
highlighted by the other side," said Jalili. "They consider it
valuable and it creates an opportunity and capacity for cooperation
on international disarmament and nuclear nonproliferation."
Iran´s interpretation of the agreed NPT framework was all-inclusive,
Jalili added. "Any rights indicated in the NPT should be respected;
uranium enrichment is one of these rights that every individual
member should benefit from and enjoy for peaceful purposes." (© The
Christian Science Monitor. 04/15/12)
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