Iran, Powers Count Down to New Nuclear Meeting

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, left, and lead nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili have pictures taken on Friday in Istanbul. Jalili is scheduled on Saturday to meet with delegates from six world powers for talks on his nation's nuclear program (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici).
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, left, and lead nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili have pictures taken on Friday in Istanbul. Jalili is scheduled on Saturday to meet with delegates from six world powers for talks on his nation's nuclear program (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici).

Diplomats from Iran and six world powers traveled to Turkey on Friday ahead of a meeting there participants hope will help to resolve concerns over the Middle Eastern state's nuclear program, Reuters reported (see GSN, April 12).

"The head of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, Saeed Jalili, arrived in Istanbul on Friday and was welcomed by local officials as well as Iran's envoy to Turkey, Bahman Hosseinpour," according to the Islamic Republic News Agency.

Jalili is scheduled to eat dinner on Friday with European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who organized the meeting on behalf of the "P-5+1" nations -- Germany and permanent U.N. Security Council members China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.

The seven nations last met for formal talks on Iran's nuclear program in January 2011. Since then, the United States and allied governments have delivered new sanctions aimed at persuading Tehran to halt atomic activities they suspect are aimed at producing a nuclear-weapon capability. There has also been increasing worry that Israel is prepared to take matters into its own hands against its longtime foe.

Iran says its nuclear program has no weapons component and for years has ignored calls to halt uranium enrichment, which can produce nuclear-weapon material as well as reactor fuel for energy and medical purposes.

The Saturday meeting "will begin a very complex negotiation, and for several months diplomacy will take some pressure off oil prices and help keep the chance of Israeli strikes very low," said issue expert Cliff Kupchan of the Eurasia Group.

"We hope that this first round will produce a conducive environment for concrete results through a sustained process," Ashton spokesman Michael Mann stated by-email.

Recent reports have indicated that another meeting could occur at some future date in Baghdad.

A primary focus for Washington and other governments is to persuade Iran to stop enriching uranium to 20 percent. Iran says the higher-enriched material is needed for a medical research reactor in Tehran, but others worry it provides a key step in production of weapon-grade uranium, which has a refinement level of about 90 percent.

Suspension of enrichment to 20 percent would help "to put a lid on the most troublesome" component of Iranian atomic work, according to nonproliferation specialist Mark Fitzpatrick of the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

An extended agreement would require "confidence that Iran cannot quickly produce nuclear weapons," he said to Reuters. Iran would have to accept heightened oversight of its atomic sector and curbs on its uranium operations and holdings for such a deal to succeed, Fitzpatrick added (Dahl/Pawlak, Reuters I, April 13).

The International Atomic Energy Agency "should also be allowed to detect enrichment levels at [Iran's Qum and Natanz enrichment plants] on a real-time basis, without only having to rely on sending environmental samples back to Austria for time-consuming analysis," Agence France-Presse quoted Fitzpatrick as saying.

Iran could also enact the Additional Protocol to its IAEA safeguards deal, which would allow for more intrusive monitoring of the nation's nuclear work, issue specialists said.

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's Mark Hibbs said, though, that without receiving significant concessions from the other nations -- including a rollback on sanctions -- Tehran is not likely to accept revival of older proposals to give up higher-level enrichment and relinquish at least some of the material in exchange for reactor fuel from other nations (Simon Sturdee, Agence France-Presse I/Yahoo!News, April 13).

Jalili stated earlier this week he would offer unspecified "new initiatives" at the meeting. Iranian Atomic Energy Organization head Fereidoun Abbasi, meanwhile, indicated the nation might end production of the higher-enriched uranium once it had met the requirements for the isotope-producing research reactor.

"We are receiving signals that they are bringing ideas to the table," Reuters quoted U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as saying on Thursday. "We want them to demonstrate, clearly, in the actions they propose that they have truly abandoned any nuclear weapons ambition."

"We are looking for concrete results. And of course, in a negotiation, we understand that the Iranians will be asking for assurances or actions from us and we will certainly take those under consideration," according to the Obama administration's top diplomat.

"But I do think it is clear to everyone, certainly in the P-5+1 but far beyond, that the diplomatic window for negotiations is open but will not remain open forever and therefore time is a matter to be taken into account," she stated.

"We want to get started this weekend and we will certainly proceed in a very expeditious, diligent manner (and in) a sustained way to determine whether there is the potential for an agreement," Clinton said (Arshad Mohammed, Reuters II, April 12).

Iran has been hit with four U.N. Security Council resolutions and corresponding declarations from the U.N. nuclear watchdog over its refusal to halt uranium enrichment activities.

The Group of Eight leading industrial nations during a meeting in Washington on Thursday said "Iran's persistent failure to comply with its obligations ... and to meet the requirements of the IAEA Board of Governors resolutions is a cause of urgent concern."

That drew a quick response from Iran, AFP reported.

"So far the Iranian delegation finds the Western position as stated during the G-8 meeting (on Thursday) and expressed in the media disappointing and discouraging," an unidentified insider said (Ceren Kumova, Agence France-Presse II/Yahoo!News, April 13).

The six powers have not reached consensus on a strategy for dealing with Iran's nuclear operations, the Washington Post reported.

It is not likely that delegates from the nations would deliver at the meeting an agreed-upon offer that would lay out particular measures for Iran to prove its atomic sector is strictly civilian in nature, according to envoys.

That might help the powers avoid constrictions in the Saturday session, but is also a situation that Tehran might seek to use to its advantage.

"We really do not have a common view of what's the real offer to be made to Iran to bring it to serious negotiations," according to Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov.

Others, though, highlighted the degree of consensus among the nations meeting with Iran.

"All are in agreement on the core principles,” according to an informed high-level U.S. official.

“The reality is, we have to wait and see what the Iranians have to say, and whether they’re truly serious this time,” stated one envoy from a Western nation involved in the upcoming talks.

Beijing and Moscow are anticipated to urge responding rapidly to any compromises by Iran with a pullback in economic penalties, while Washington and its European partners support a more extended schedule that corresponds to clear signs of Tehran's step back from contested operations (Warrick/Erdbrink, Washington Post I, April 12).

Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, in a commentary published on Thursday in the Post, reaffirmed his nation's public stance against nuclear arms or other weapons of mass destruction.

"Almost seven years ago, Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made a binding commitment. He issued a religious edict -- a fatwa -- forbidding the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons. Our stance against weapons of mass destruction, which is far from new, has been put to the test. When Saddam Hussein attacked us with chemical arms in the 1980s, we did not retaliate with the same means. And when it comes to our nuclear energy program, the [International Atomic Energy Agency] has failed to find any military dimension, despite an unprecedented number of man-hours in intrusive inspections."

The U.N. nuclear watchdog in quarterly safeguards reports, though, has also said that Iran has failed to resolve questions about information that suggests the nation has conducted nuclear weapon-related research.

Salehi expressed support for talks in which all participants "assume an honest approach with a view toward moving past the barriers to sincere dialogue.

To solve the nuclear issue, the scope of the upcoming talks ... must be comprehensive," he stated. "The concerns of all sides must be addressed. Complex matters that have been left unaddressed for decades cannot be solved overnight. Another sign of mutual respect is a willingness and readiness to both give and take, without preconditions. This form of reciprocity is distinct from approaches that involve only taking. Most important, and this cannot be stressed enough, is that dialogue must be seen as a process rather than an event" (Ali Akbar Salehi, Washington Post II, April 12).

Jalili, at the talks, is designated as the "personal representative of the supreme leader," the New York Times quoted the negotiator's letterhead as stating.

"When the Iranians do things like this we think it means something,” according to Volker Perthes, head of the Institute for International and Security Affairs in Germany. “Jalili seems to be indicating that you can do business with me because the supreme leader is behind my mission. That’s a change.”

Khamenei, who would be the last word in Tehran on any agreement, is particularly skeptical of any effort to curb his nation's atomic activities.

“Jalili is not considered to be very smart, even inside Iran,” said Farideh Farhi of the University of Hawaii (Manoa). “He used to work in the office of Khamenei, and wouldn’t go to Istanbul without specific instructions about how serious the talks should be. But for Iran, some things have changed: sanctions have become harsher, and they believe the kinds of technological advances they pushed through have made a difference in American calculations.”

In a possible departure from the last rounds of talks in December 2010 and January 2011, "both sides seem a bit more optimistic, and both sides are worried about failure," Farhi said. "There is a bit more of a balance of interests; this brings a seriousness to this discussion" (Steven Erlanger, New York Times, April 12).

April 13, 2012

Diplomats from Iran and six world powers traveled to Turkey on Friday ahead of a meeting there participants hope will help to resolve concerns over the Middle Eastern state's nuclear program, Reuters reported.