Diplomats mull refreshing Iran nuclear proposal ahead of new talks

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Washington and five world powers are considering offering Iran a refreshed proposal that could include limited sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program, Iran analysts and western diplomats briefed on the consultations said this week.

Diplomats rom the P5+1 are expected to hold a new round of talks with Iran next month, following informal contacts this month between European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, her deputy Helga Schmid, and their Iranian counterparts, the sources said.

Western policymakers “recognize they need to include some sanctions relief,” in the reformulated proposal, Trita Parsi, an Iran analyst with the National Iranian American Council, told Al Monitor Thursday. “But there’s a problem with sequencing, and questions about how to stop, freeze, shut, ship out.”

Given many US sanctions on Iran are legislated by Congress, and not solely under the discretion of the executive branch to lift, Washington will be looking to the Europeans for options for limited sanctions relief, Parsi said.

“We recognize that the Iranians need something more with which they can sell a deal at home, and we will expect real change on the other side,” the Guardian’s Julian Borger cited a European official in a report published Thursday. “It is about getting the sequencing right.”

Western diplomats see a few month “window”–from the US presidential elections Nov. 6 until some time in the spring–in which to try to negotiate a deal, Al Monitor‘s Barbara Slavin reported this week. Western diplomats and analysts suggest the timeline may be constrained, both because of wide anticipation of renewed pressure from Israel for military action early in the new year, as well as Iran’s leadership preparing for Iran presidential elections in June.

“The American administration is essentially looking at a window of immediately after the US presidential elections until March of next year, when the Iranians have their new year and after that, presidential elections,” Parsi said. “Before then, something positive needs to happen.”

And that short window is assuming Obama is reelected, though recent polls show the US Presidential race to be basically tied.

“If Barack Obama is re-elected Nov. 6, his administration will have only about five months until Iran becomes embroiled in its own presidential contest next spring,” Slavin wrote. “If Mitt Romney wins, the Obama team will have an even shorter period and both Iran and the US may feel constrained about signing a deal that might be repudiated by the next US president.”

Some Washington policy makers close to the White House have argued for tossing the “step by step” incremental approach with Iran in favor of giving Iran a “go big” offer. Under “go big,” the US and P5+1 would give Iran a broader proposal that would offer Iran a domestic civil nuclear energy program, that may or may not include the right to limited 3.5% domestic enrichment. Some key advocates of “go big,” such as former White House Iran strategist Dennis Ross, have described the approach as a broader, take-it-or-leave-it final offer, which would test whether Iran’s intent is really to get a peaceful nuclear energy program, and whose rejection could be followed by war.
But in discussions between Washington and the UK, France and Germany in June, the Europeans were described as resistant to the idea of broadening the offer presented to the Iranians in Baghdad in May before the Iranians had responded to it, American sources briefed on the discussions told Al-Monitor. The P5+1 ultimately decided that to maintain unity, they would ask Iran to respond to the initial offer.

Separately, London will be represented in future P5+1/Iran talks by the new UK Foreign Office political director, Mark Sedwill, who previously served as the UK envoy to Afghanistan, the Guardian‘s Borger reported.

(Photo: EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Iran’s chief negotiator Saeed Jalili walk before their meeting in the garden of the Iranian Consulate in Istanbul September 18, 2012. REUTERS/Osman Orsal)