New Iran Nuclear Talks: What Can West Hope to Accomplish?

By LaFranchi, Howard | The Christian Science Monitor, December 6, 2010 | Go to article overview

New Iran Nuclear Talks: What Can West Hope to Accomplish?


LaFranchi, Howard, The Christian Science Monitor


A US official downplays any hope of a breakthrough in talks this week on the Iran nuclear program. Western negotiators are hoping for some gesture of good faith from Iran.

In talks with Iran this week in Geneva, world powers including the United States are looking for two things: a signal and a commitment.

First, the US and its five partners in the talks that started Monday want a sign from Tehran that it is serious about reducing tensions in the short term to allow for meaningful negotiations on its nuclear program.

And second, the six powers - the US and the other four permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany - want a commitment that any long-term negotiations would include Iran's continuing uranium enrichment.

So far, the talks have gotten the Iranians to agree only to a second day of talks Tuesday - which is one more day than they originally accepted.

In his remarks at the Monday meeting, Iranian negotiator Saeed Jalili focused on last week's car-bombing assassination in Tehran of a top Iranian nuclear scientist, Majid Shahriari. The Iranian side also wants any eventual negotiations to take up broader issues like international terrorism and regional security.

What world powers want from Iran

Iran could give a positive short-term signal by agreeing to a deal that would remove a substantial portion of its low-enriched uranium stockpile and swap it with more-highly enriched fuel Iran needs to run a medical research reactor in Tehran. Such a deal was almost reached last October before disagreement over the timing of a swap scuttled it.

Talks on such a deal could take up in the coming weeks in either Geneva again or in Turkey, some diplomats have suggested.

"A fuel swap deal could be the kind of confidence-building step needed to allow a process of serious negotiating to deepen in the weeks and months ahead," says Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association in Washington. "But that [fuel swap deal] alone does not address the issues posed by the Iranian nuclear program."

The Obama administration has two main "priorities" for substantive negotiations with Iran, Kimball says: one is to limit the growth of Iran's enrichment capabilities, and the other is to persuade Iran to accept an inspection and verification system on its nuclear facilities that is "far more intrusive and far more effective" than the one the International Atomic Energy Agency currently has operating in Iran. …

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