Ashton to meet Iran’s Jalili in follow up nuclear talks

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Chief international negotiator Catherine Ashton will meet Iran’s nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili in Istanbul on May 15th, the office of the European Union foreign policy chief said Thursday.

The meeting is the “follow up to the last round of negotiations” between six world powers and Iran held in Almaty, Kazakhstan April 5-6, Ashton’s spokesperson Michael Mann said in a two-line statement Thursday.

Ashton is expected to be “in listening mode” in the follow-up consultation, a western diplomatic source told Al-Monitor Thursday is his understanding.

“The P5+1 are expecting some sort of an indication that Iran wants to engage seriously,” the diplomat, speaking not for attribution, said, adding that “the bar seems to be rather low.”

Last week, Iran’s deputy nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri repeatedly announced that Iran was ready to return to negotiations and was waiting for Ashton’s call.

“We are waiting to see whether Lady Ashton’s response is going to cover the time and venue of another round of negotiations, or will she limit her response to just discussing the substantive side of things,” Bagheri told Reuters  in an interview in Geneva April 25th.

Bagheri, in the Reuters interview, also said that Iran is willing to discuss requests from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) “which go beyond our obligations” under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the Reuters report said.

Iran is also due to have a meeting with the IAEA on May 15th.

“Once we reach an agreement with the agency, we also expect the (six powers), because of such cooperation with the agency which goes well beyond our obligations, to lift a number of sanctions. Unilateral sanctions which are illegal,” Bagheri told Reuters. Continue reading

Iran nuclear advisor sets out ‘maximalist’ stance as Iran mulls new talks

Iran's IAEA ambassador Soltanieh and Iran's IAEA advisor Asgari attend a meeting on the Iranian nuclear issue in ViennaAmid a continued stalemate in efforts to resume nuclear talks, a key advisor to Iran’s nuclear negotiating team has published a proposal he says has been previously presented to the United States and five world powers for resolving international concerns about Iran’s nuclear program.

The author, Mahdi (or Mehdi) Mohammadi, the former political editor of Iran’s hardline Kayhan newspaper, is one of two key architects of Iran’s nuclear negotiating strategy under the team led by Iran National Security Advisor Saeed Jalili, an Iranian source who requested anonymity said.

The other is Hamid-Reza Asgari, the low-profile legal advisor to Iran’s Atomic Energy organization and senior non-proliferation advisor to Iran’s National Security Council. Asgari led Iran’s team to technical talks with arms control officials from the United States and other P5+1 powers in Istanbul July 3rd.. Asgari previously met with American, as well as Russian and French diplomats, in Vienna on October 21, 2009 to discuss the details of a nuclear fuel swap deal that later fell apart amid domestic infighting in Iran.

Asgari “is the real boss,” the Iranian source told the Back Channel.

“The two sides, according to Tehran, should first address each other’s concerns,”  Mohammadi wrote in Iran Review January 9th:

The United States should, thus, recognize Iran’s right to enrich uranium and Iran, in return, will announce that it has no plan to build nuclear weapons. In the next stage, the US and the European Union should remove all unilateral sanctions against Iran and Iran, for its part, will take immediate steps to address the remaining concerns of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) which the Western countries claim to be very important. In fact, a new round of IAEA’s inspections of and access to Iran’s nuclear sites will begin. In the third stage, Iran will be ready to negotiate about 20-percent enrichment provided that the United Nations Security Council will annul all its sanctions resolutions against Tehran. [...]

The proposal, which would not have Iran negotiate curbing its higher 20% uranium enrichment activities until the third step, after the lifting of US and European sanctions, might be viewed as a disheartening sign that Iran may still not be prepared to seriously negotiate. At the same time, it could be read as an Iranian effort not to appear over-eager for a deal, ahead of anticipated negotiations Tehran does hope will lead to sanctions relief.

“It’s all part of the pre-negotiation negotiation,” analyst Mark Fitzpatrick suggested.

“Iran is still in the opening salvo stages of negotiations, presenting its maximalist demands,” Fitzpatrick, a nuclear expert with the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), told the Back Channel Tuesday. “And clearly these so-called reciprocal concessions are not in the ballpark for what the six powers can accept. Because Iran is not really giving up anything other than 20%. No mention of Fordo, of its stockpile [of enriched uranium] and no limits on its 5% production.”

“Considering that [Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad repeatedly said Iran could stop 20% in exchange for fuel for [the Tehran Research Reactor] TRR, now Iran is demanding everything for stopping 20%,” Fitzpatrick continued. “That is not a reasonable position for the P5. And they [the Iranians] need to get in the room and talk seriously.”

The publication of Tehran’s proposal comes as western negotiators have been waiting with growing discouragement for Iran to respond to numerous attempts to schedule a new round of talks with six world powers.

“We have spoken to them a number of times since before the new year and have offered dates and venue, but they still don’t come back with a straight answer,” Michael Mann, a spokesperson for European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, told the Back Channel Monday. Continue reading

US seen hardening its position in Iran nuclear talks

Iran came to talks in Moscow last week (June 18-19) prepared to discuss stopping enriching uranium to 20% but refused two other conditions that might have led to a partial agreement in the nuclear standoff, Barbara Slavin and I report on the front page:

Briefings by diplomats whose countries took part in the talks portrayed the meetings as a “dialogue of the deaf,” with the two sides trading widely divergent proposals. However, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator did express willingness to discuss one key step requested by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (P5+1): stopping enrichment of uranium to 20% U-235, the isotope that gives uranium its explosive power.

The western members of the P5+1 insisted, however, that Iran had to meet all three conditions contained in their proposal: stop 20% enrichment, ship out a stockpile of more than 100 kilograms of 20%-enriched uranium and close Fordo, a fortified enrichment facility built into a mountain near Qom.

That stance has led some P5+1 members to conclude that the United States hardened its position in Moscow compared to two earlier sessions in Baghdad and Istanbul, according to diplomatic briefings shared with Al-Monitor. [...]

“Earlier, the US had implied that they were ready to address the three E3+3 demands … separately,” a briefing shared with Al-Monitor said, using the terminology Europeans employ for the P5+1. “However, this position had changed in Moscow,” where the US insisted “that the three demands should be treated inseparably, as a package.”

Indeed, after the P5+1 presented its proposal to Iran in Baghdad last month, Washington’s clear expectation was that Iran would not accept it as-is.

“There were two possible scenarios,” said Ali Vaez, an Iran analyst at the International Crisis Group, in an interview with Al-Monitor Tuesday. ”Either the P5+1’s proposal was no more than an opening salvo,” and it would be willing to negotiate better terms with Iran based on it during the next round, “or with tougher sanctions looming in the horizon, it was simply a take-it-or-leave-it offer. And it turned out in Moscow that Washington was not prepared to offer more.”

 

Go read the whole piece.

I also report that Bob Einhorn, the State Department Iran sanctions czar and a veteran nonproliferation expert, will lead the U.S. team participating in P5+1/Iran technical talks in Istanbul next week (July 3rd).

Iran’s team is expected to be led by Ali Ashgar Soltanieh, Iran’s envoy to the IAEA, although that is not confirmed.