Iran nuclear talks get underway in Baghdad


Baghdad__Iran nuclear talks have gotten underway in Baghdad.

“Good body language, a good routine has set in,” one official told Al Monitor about 90 minutes after diplomats from six nations and Iran went into a plenary meeting.

The top international negotiator, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, is presenting a detailed proposal on behalf of the P5+1 group. The proposal is focused on a confidence building measure that aims to curb Iran’s higher level 20% uranium enrichment, diplomats said.

The proposal includes “confidence building measures that can begin to pave the way for Iran to demonstrate that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes and for it to comply with UNSC resolutions,” a western official said.

“This approach includes concrete, step-by-step, reciprocal measures aimed at near term action,” he said. “We are looking to have detailed and serious discussions in Baghdad that strive to make progress towards these concrete steps.”

Iran seemed unlikely to either accept or reject the proposal outright at this meeting.

Western diplomats have indicated that if the Iranians show a constructive response to the proposal, they would like to propose that the parties meet more frequently in a single location, in order to advance a possible accord. Diplomats have suggested that such meetings could occur every few weeks–not always with all the rigamarole of the last few rounds of high-stakes talks in Istanbul and Baghdad. For instance, a regular meeting spot in Geneva could sometimes bring together technical experts, middle level diplomats, for a process that could take months and is envisioned to be implemented over several steps, they suggested.

It was as yet unclear Wednesday if the talks would continue for a second day.

“What happened in Istanbul was positive,” Michael Mann, spokesman for Ashton, told journalists shortly after the plenary talks had begun Wednesday.

“I can’t express optimism [about this meeting in Baghdad] til we hear the response from the Iranians to our proposal.”

“Key now for a detailed dialogue and tangible results,” the first official said.

Diplomats have said they will make public their proposal in the next day or two.

Al Monitor reported Tuesday on some of the elements of the proposal. Continue reading

International negotiators to offer detailed confidence-building proposal to Iran

Amman, Jordan – The United States and its negotiating partners have agreed on a detailed confidence-building proposal to present to Iran at nuclear negotiations due to get underway in Baghdad Wednesday.

The proposed package is an updated version of a 2009 uranium fuel swap plan that takes into account Iran’s progress in enriching uranium, American and European diplomats said.

While the details of the proposed package have not been made public, Western officials told Al Monitor that the package does not include sanctions relief at this stage.

Instead, the United States and its P5+1 partners will offer fuel for Tehran’s Research Reactor (TRR) plus safety upgrades to the plant, which is of 1960s vintage. Also potentially on the table: new research reactors that use lower level 3.5 percent enriched uranium, safety upgrades for Iran’s one functioning nuclear power plant at Bushehr and spare parts for its accident-plagued fleet of civilian airliners.

In return, Iran must stop producing uranium enriched to 20 percent and halt activities at Fordow, an enrichment facility built into a mountain near Qom. It is not clear whether Iran would also have to send out its stockpile of more than 100 kg of the fuel.

*The E3+3 will be putting forward a detailed confidence building proposal tomorrow, which will include a series of confidence building measures,” a western official told journalists in Amman Tuesday.

“Expectations are guarded,” a second western official told Al Monitor Tuesday. “If we talk substantively on elements of a deal and agree to meet again in three weeks, Baghdad will have been a success.”

“Just hope the Iranians are not deluding themselves they are going to get sanctions relief now—that’s not going to happen at this stage,” he added.

European and American diplomats have indicated that if the Baghdad talks prove constructive, they would like to meet far more regularly with Iran in a single location– possibly Geneva–to try to hammer out the complex technical issues for the confidence building measure.

Separately, the International Atomic Energy Agency chief said Tuesday that he and Iran were close to finalizing agreement on a work plan.

“During my stay in Tehran, there was an important development on the structured approach document on which we have been working since January,” IAEA chief Yukiya Amano said Tuesday after returning from talks in Iran with Iran’s top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili.

“The decision was made by me and Mr. Jalili to reach agreement on the structured approach,” Amano said.

American diplomats said they welcomed the signs of progress, but noted the IAEA’s negotiations with Iran serve a separate purpose from that of the P5+1.

The IAEA and P5+1 tracks with Iran “are two separate processes,” a senior US administration official said Tuesday.

“The IAEA is about accounting for the past and for naming what is,” the official explained. “It is not about what is the nature of Iran’s nuclear program and what will Iran’s nuclear program look like going forward, and will it be peaceful.”

“Better to under-promise and over-deliver!” a European diplomat said. “The big picture is to get a process going where the big players and Iran meet regularly, ideally every month, and work step-by-step towards a common goal.”

–Barbara Slavin reported from Washington; Laura Rozen from Amman.


Is the Islamist Vote Losing Ground in Egypt?

Al-Monitor correspondent Sophie Claudet writes from Cairo:

It is quite logical that Egypt’s liberals, seculars and most Copts would not cast their vote for an Islamist candidate in Wednesday’s election. What about the rest of  the voters?

Egypt is a conservative society, and we have seen, whether in Egypt or Tunisia, that Islamists bore the brunt of the former regime’s repressive policies and were pretty much the only organized force around, so they gained the trust of voters. In fact, in post-revolutionary Tunisia and Egypt, citizens voted en masse for Islamists when they had the chance to participate in the first free and open general elections in decades. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice movement and the radical Salafist Al-Nour party dominate the People’s Assembly. Four months have passed since the November poll and people are increasingly disappointed with the Islamists’ performance. Continue reading

Top US Mideast diplomat expected to take senior UN post

Reuters’ Arshad Mohammed and Warren Strobel report that veteran US Middle East troubleshooter Jeff Feltman is expected to take a top job at the United Nations:

Feltman, who is assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, is expected to replace Lynn Pascoe, another career U.S. diplomat, as U.N. under-secretary-general for political affairs, a key post at the world body.

In that position, Feltman would help to formulate U.N. policy in negotiations on the Middle East peace process and other conflicts and to oversee U.N. mediation efforts.

It was not clear when Feltman might step down but one source said it could be as early as next week.

The State Department isn’t officially commenting yet, but would normally wait for his new agency to announce the posting.

Feltman, the former US ambassador to Lebanon, is one of the most well regarded, straight shooting diplomats in the US government. He recently topped the Obama administration’s shortlist for next US envoy to Iraq, but was considered too essential for being able to work the whole Middle East region amid the Arab uprisings.

One wonders if this move may be, in part, a vote of frustration at the lack of effective US leadership on the Middle East peace process.


Slavin: Egypt’s Voters Lean Toward Turkish Model

My colleague Barbara Slavin writes:

Egypt’s voters appear to be seeking someone similar to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan as their new president.

A poll released just before the May 23 election rates personal trustworthiness as the most important characteristic of Egypt’s next leader. Of those polled by the University of Maryland, 66 percent said Sharia should be the basis for Egyptian laws but 83 percent said Islamic law should be “adapted to modern times.”

Shibley Telhami, a professor at the University of Maryland and nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, presented the findings Monday at Brookings. He noted distinctions between the characteristics Egyptians said they sought in members of parliament and as president. Where 24 percent of Egyptians rated party affiliation as the number one reason for choosing a member of parliament, 31 percent cited personal trust as the key determinant in voting for president. Continue reading

Iran’s economy minister tells Al-Monitor: “Our goals are clear”

Shamseddin Hosseini, Iran’s economy minister and representative to the World Bank, is one of the only senior Iranian officials to regularly visit Washington, which of course has not had diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic for over thirty years.

In a wide-ranging interview with me for Al-Monitor, Hosseini, 44, said that Iran is looking to make progress at the upcoming nuclear talks, but sought to portray Iran as not overly eager or anxious about the recently renewed diplomatic process.

“If the question is, ‘during these talk and dialogue, based on our positions, will we still seek progress,’ of course, the answer is yes,” Hosseini told me in an interview at Iran’s mission to the United Nations in New York Friday.

“Our goals are clear,” he continued. “They are safekeeping of the goals of the Iranian people. We will be steadfast in the future.”

On sanctions, Hosseini warned that new sanctions targeting Iran’s oil exports could hurt the economies of those imposing the sanctions. “Can one grow without using energy?” he asked. “For that very reason, you see, pressures have reached a point that those who bring that pressure to bear complain about the pain.”

Read the full piece here:


Slavin: Why Centcom chief really wanted third aircraft carrier in the Gulf

My colleague Barbara Slavin writes:

Eli Lake of the Daily Beast reports that Gen. James Mattis, the head of US Central Command, unsuccessfully sought permission to send a third US aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf region in January in an effort to deter Iran from escalating tensions in the Gulf.


While I have the utmost respect for Lake’s reporting skills, the story may have misconstrued Mattis’s views when it describes him as a hawk who as Lake puts it, “has often found himself the odd man out — particularly when it comes to Iran.”


In fact, Mattis, despite his nickname “Mad Dog Mattis,” is a prudent planner who seeks to prevent any incident with Iran in the Persian Gulf – and to make sure that if one occurs, it does not spiral out of control. Continue reading

IAEA chief to make unusual visit to Iran

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency Yukiya Amano will make a rare visit to Iran on Sunday, the UN nuclear watchdog agency announced Friday. It will be Amano’s first visit to Iran, and the first by an IAEA chief since Mohamed ElBaradei visited the country in 2009.

“Amano will travel to Tehran this Sunday, 20 May, to discuss issues of mutual interest with high Iranian officials,” the agency said in a brief press announcement. Amano would also meet the top Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili on monday, the agency said.

The visit comes ahead of a second round of Iran nuclear talks due to be held in Baghdad May 23. It also follows an Iran-IAEA meeting last week that both sides described as constructive.

Diplomatic sources said they were only somewhat hopeful ahead of the next round of talks.

“There is reason to be cautiously hopeful, a step down from the usual ‘cautiously optimistic,'” a western diplomat told me Friday. “Talks are progressing and we should have a chance to take another important step, perhaps even reach the end of the beginning of the process.”

Continue reading

Netanyahu: Iran good at playing this chess game

Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu weighed in Friday on the next round of Iran nuclear ngotiations, due to take place next week in Baghdad.

He spoke at a press availability in Prague, and his comments were forwarded by the Israeli embassy:

“Obviously, nothing would be better than to see this issue resolved diplomatically.  But I have seen no evidence that Iran is serious about stopping its nuclear weapons program.  It looks as though they see these talks as another opportunity to device and delay just like North Korea did for years.

They may try to go from meeting to meeting with empty promises.  They may agree to something in principle but not implement it.  They might even agree to implement something that does not materially derail their nuclear weapons program. Continue reading

Iran eases conditions of opposition leader’s house arrest

My colleague Barbara Slavin reports:

Iranian opposition media report that Mehdi Karroubi, the 2009 reformist presidential candidate and former speaker of the Iranian parliament, has had the conditions of his 15-month house arrest lightened so that he can go outside for brief periods and meet with his family.

The report, in Saham News and translated by Radio Zamaneh, suggests both greater confidence by the Iranian government and a perceived need to widen its base in advance of May 23 nuclear talks in Baghdad.


According to the report, Karroubi, 74, has literally been given access to fresh air and allowed to open his windows. He can also “stroll in the building’s parking area and lock his apartment door.” Karroubi was permitted to visit his family at their home this week and the detainee’s wife, Fatemeh, has been given permission to visit him twice a week. Continue reading