Iran nuclear talks began in Istanbul today with topics that could
include a revamped version of a nuclear fuel swap deal and ongoing
With its nuclear program under fire, Iran sat down at the table
with world powers today in Istanbul for talks with an uncertain
agenda and uncertain chances of a breakthrough.
Expectations were low but the stakes high in only the third set
of such high-level talks in 16 months.
"The positions of neither side have changed fundamentally," says
Elahe Mohtasham, an Iran nuclear specialist recently with the
Foreign Policy Centre in London. "Iran continues to use these talks
as a way of furthering its overall strategic objective [and] the US
position that Iran must stop its enrichment program ... hasn't
Iranian media presented the talks as pushing Iran's "security
agenda ... rather than specifically talking about nuclear issues,"
says Ms. Mohtasham. Such reports have not shown "any positive way
forward, in the way the West would define [it]. There is no sign
that Iran is going to stop its enrichment program. There is no sign
that Iran is going to step back from any of its activities."
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The distance between the two sides was evident even at the close
of the last round of talks in Geneva in December.
Iran's chief negotiator Saeed Jalili had said the "only outcome"
after two days had been agreement on eight words that included
"cooperation to find common ground" - but not the word "nuclear."
That position was hailed in Iran as a "victory" because Iran made no
'Practical ideas' on the nuclear issue
In contrast, Europe's top diplomat Catherine Ashton -
representing the P5+1 group of the United States, Russia, China,
Britain, France, and Germany - had said the Istanbul talks would
"discuss practical ideas [to resolve] our full concerns about the
Iranian media is couching the Istanbul agenda in the broadest
terms, saying that "success" would hinge on the P5+1 sticking to
their previous agreement. For Iran, that means discussing issues
like reforming the United Nations Security Council, nuclear
disarmament, and regional security - but not haggling over Iran's
On Friday, with the prospect of further sanctions looming against
Iran and patience wearing thin on both sides, the two days of talks
commenced behind closed doors in an ornate Ottoman-era palace along
the Bosphorus. Iran has had difficult relations with the West - and
especially arch-foes Britain, the US, and Israel - since the 1979
Islamic revolution swept away a brutal pro-Western monarchy.
"We will absolutely not allow the talks to go into the issue of
our basic rights like the issue of suspending enrichment," Abolfazl
Zohrevand, an aide to Mr. Jalili, told reporters during a break for
prayers. "We will focus on cooperation... The talks have been
positive because both sides have come to take positive steps."
What might be on the table
But other aspects of Iran's nuclear program may well enter the
discussion. The negotiators - with undersecretary of State for
Political Affairs William Burns representing the US - are likely to
be grappling with several key topics, such as a revamped version of
a nuclear fuel swap deal, in which Iran would agree to export much
of its homemade enriched uranium in exchange for nuclear fuel rods
it needs for a small reactor in Tehran that makes medical isotopes.
Billed as a confidence-building measure in October 2009 the
proposal went nowhere. A similar version mediated by Turkey and
Brazil was agreed with Iran in May 2010, but rejected by Western
nations because it left enough nuclear material in Iran to serve as
a building block for a weapon. News reports suggest both sides may
have prepared updated proposals.
Iranian analysts suggest a "win-win" solution, in which the US
and other world powers accept uranium enrichment in Iran - a process
that has already been underway for years in the Islamic Republic -
in exchange for much more intrusive inspections and guarantees. …