Iran Nuclear Talks: Why All Sides Kept Positive

Article excerpt

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 significant."

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 nuclear energy."

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. …