Baghdad — Recently resumed Iran nuclear talks almost collapsed in Baghdad, just a couple hours before the chief international negotiator announced that the parties had agreed to hold a third meeting in Moscow next month, Western diplomats told Al-Monitor Friday.
The first Iran nuclear talks in over a year, in Istanbul last month, were roundly praised by all parties as constructive and held in a positive atmosphere.
The Baghdad meeting got off to a tense and difficult start Wednesday (May 23), after Iran gave a decidedly chilly reception to a proposed international package of inducements for curbing its 20 percent uranium enrichment. However, it was late on the talks’ second day (May 24) when the diplomatic process almost totally broke down, European diplomats told Al-Monitor. Nor has it been previously reported that a key impasse was not just between Iran and the six-nation negotiating group known as the P5+1; but rather among members of the P5+1 themselves about the language of the final statement. Specifically, the diplomats disagreed over whether to issue a final statement that might risk not moving to another meeting, or trying to gain acceptance by Iran to the P5+1 statement, so the diplomatic process could move ahead, diplomats said.
“The danger of a breakdown came in the afternoon of the second day,” a European diplomat told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity Friday. “We just didn’t look like we had agreement, enough compromise.”
At the very end, the final statement reflected a sufficient level of compromise so they could go forward, he said.
Other nations had thought they should take a harder line.
The diplomat declined to identify which nations in the P5+1 — the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and China — pushed for taking a harder line. But he did say that lead international negotiator, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, was ultimately able to find a compromise in working out the text of the final document that every member of the group unanimously endorsed. The statement said while significant gaps remain between Iran and the P5+1, there was enough common ground to move to another meeting to try to advance areas of agreement.
“Obviously it’s a lot harder in Baghdad because of the security situation,” said the diplomat. “But [Ashton’s team] was happy to avail themselves of the Iraqi hosts.” Ashton’s team got both Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister (and former oil minister) Hussein al-Shahristani and Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari “to engage with the Iranians to understand what their position is,” the diplomat said as one example.
She also sent the Chinese and Russian negotiators into an eleventh-hour trilateral meeting with the Iranians late Thursday. At the meeting, Iran proposed three venues acceptable to it for a follow-up meeting: Astana, Kazakhstan; Beijing or Moscow. At a plenary meeting at the conclusion of the talks, it only took five minutes for all the diplomats to settle on Moscow.
“What she wanted to do is to make sure we move forward, but not move forward at any cost,” the diplomat said. “I think she found that balance.”
“The bottom line is: she laid out a strategy that says, ‘Let’s get clear what the views are: to get enough agreement from the Iranians to move to a more detailed examination of the two proposals,” he said. “This is unprecedented.”
Ashton “doesn’t want talks for talks’ sake,” a second, senior European diplomat said in an interview with Al-Monitor Friday. On this point, all six nations in the P5+1 agree, the second diplomat said.
The difficulty of the Baghdad meetings actually overshadowed some important developments in their approach to the negotiations, the senior diplomat added. Continue reading