No clarity yet on dates for new Iran nuclear talks

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Diplomats from six world powers, meeting in Brussels last week (Nov. 21), called for new talks with Iran as soon as possible.

But as yet, there is no clarity about when the next round of P5+1 Iran talks will happen, diplomats from the United States and Europe told Al-Monitor on Wednesday. “All dates circulating are speculation,” a European diplomat told Al-Monitor Wednesday. “No clarity yet” about a new meeting date, a US official said.

From Washington’s perspective, the feeling is that it’s better to meet as soon as possible. While Israel is currently distracted ahead of Israeli elections in January, there’s a sense in Washington that there’s not very many months to try to get an interim deal before there’s the likelihood of renewed Israeli pressure for possible military action, not to mention that Iran goes into its own campaign mode in the spring ahead of its presidential elections in June.

But chief international negotiator Catherine Ashton’s early December schedule is already pretty booked up, and Iran is due to hold meetings with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Iran December 13th, making it seemingly unlikely a meeting will happen before then. Ashton, just back from Central Asia, where chief US Iran negotiator Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman was also traveling this week, is also due to attend a NATO foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels next week.

“I think the problem is that scheduling this thing is just logistically tough,” a Washington non-proliferation expert said, noting that western governments effectively shut down on December 17 for the rest of the year for their holidays, then in early January the Russians shut down for Orthodox calendar holidays.

“Necessary contact” between European Union High Rep Ashton’s office and Iran to arrange a new meeting “will be made in the coming days,” Ashton’s office said November 21.

On whether a meeting is likely to materialize before or after the new year, a western diplomat responded, “Wouldn’t place a bet on this given the wild card that the Iranians are.”

(Photo: A meeting of E3+3 Political Directors, chaired by Catherine Ashton took place on 21 November in Brussels. Photo courtesy of the EU External Action Service.)