Iran Seeks Sustained Dialogue


Barbara Slavin reports:

As Iran and world powers agreed to continue talking, Iranian officials put forward a detailed explanation of their point of view including a proposal for high-level negotiations every three months.

A 10-page document (.pdf) given Tuesday (July 3) to Iran experts by Iran’s mission to the United Nations also calls for lifting all sanctions against Iran and a framework for “comprehensive and targeted dialogue for long term cooperation” that goes beyond the nuclear issue. It includes elements of a bigger bargain normalizing Iran’s status in the international community.

Among four “objectives” for the proposed dialogue, sanctions relief is listed first. The goal, the paper says, is “to normalize Iran’s nuclear file in the UN Security Council and in the [International Atomic Energy Agency] Board of Governors by total termination of the UNSC, unilateral and multilateral sanctions against Iran.”

The priority is not surprising given the fact that draconian new sanctions went into effect July 1 that bar European countries from importing Iranian oil and insuring Iranian oil shipments to others. Iran also faces sanctions under four UN resolutions and a raft of unilateral US penalties. Its oil exports have dropped by a million barrels a day since last year and historic rival Iraq is now pumping more oil. While Iran is practiced in adapting to sanctions, its people are struggling to deal with a collapsed currency and inflation of more than 30 percent.

In addition to sanctions relief, Iran wants recognition of its right to enrich uranium in exchange for continuing to fulfill its obligations to keep its nuclear program open to international inspections.

Iran also seeks cooperation on nuclear safety and newer nuclear technology than a half-century old Tehran reactor that makes medical isotopes and a hodge-podge Russian-German nuclear power plant at Bushehr that has yet to become fully operational.

A final goal, according to the document, is “a comprehensive agreement on collective commitments in the areas of economic, political, security and international cooperation” that includes Iranian inclusion in talks aimed at ending the conflict in Syria – something the US has opposed.

While Iran’s lofty ambitions are unlikely to be realized anytime soon, the document is useful not only for giving insights into Iran’s thinking but also that of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, the so-called P5+1.

In a section entitled “reviewing and assessing the proposal of the 5+1,” the paper quotes P5+1 positions tabled at talks last month in Moscow which have been reported but not officially released.

A key demand is to stop “all activity at Fordow,” the enrichment site near Qom that is built into a mountain and thus difficult to attack militarily. “Shutting down the Fordow facility will address concerns that the facility is intended for military use,” the document quotes the P5+1 as saying.

In response, the Iranian paper asserts that Fordow “is not a military base” and that the reason it is located in such a well-defended place is because “facing constant threats, we need a back up facility to safeguard our enrichment activities.”

The document also appears to reject a P5+1 demand to transfer Iran’s stockpile of more than 100 kilograms of 20 percent uranium out of the country, noting that all this material is already under IAEA supervision. It says that Iran needs to continue to produce this material as fuel for “at least 4 other research reactors” that will be constructed around the nation to provide medical isotopes to treat cancer patients

Responding to P5+1 offers of renewed technical cooperation, the document says that Iran has a right to such cooperation as a member of the IAEA and the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. Iran also says that medical isotopes and spare parts for its old civilian airliners – another long-dangled Western incentive for Iran to change its policies– are “basic human rights and mixing them with political issues demonstrates non-constructive objectives of the other side.”

On one issue, however, the two sides appear to be in agreement: keeping a process going at least through US presidential elections in November. The Iranians are unlikely to make major concessions until they know whether Barack Obama will be re-elected. At the same time, the US appears reluctant to make concessions to Iran that could open up Obama to Republican charges of appeasement.

The Iranian document calls for a sustained process of negotiations that would get everyone past the Nov. 4 vote. It calls for meetings among the top negotiators for all seven nations every three months preceded by expert-level sessions led by deputy Iranian nuclear Ali Bagheri and European Union deputy foreign policy chief Helga Schmid.

A marathon 15-hour session in Istanbul Tuesday (July 3) among technical experts ended early July 4 with an agreement for Bagheri and Schmid to meet though no date was set.

“In terms of a traditional negotiation… we’re really only at the beginning of this process,” said Jim Walsh, a nonproliferation expert at MIT who was among those receiving a copy of the Iranian paper.

“Obviously 20 percent enrichment and something around the Tehran Research Reactor will be the first thing that gets done,” Walsh told Al-Monitor. “At some point, the NPT will be the frame under which this is done and there is going to be technical assistance. Rhetorically, Iran will get to claim its rights… but in a way that satisfies people’s proliferation concerns.”

Barbara Slavin is Washington correspondent for Al-Monitor and a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, where she focuses on Iran. She was among a dozen Iran experts who were given a copy of the Iranian paper. She tweets at @BarbaraSlavin1