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
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 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
"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. …