US sees Moscow Iran talks as pivotal

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Moscow__Diplomats from five nations and Iran have arrived in Moscow ahead of a new round of nuclear talks Monday that some American diplomats consider pivotal to determining whether to continue pursuing the current incremental approach.

“Tomorrow’s E3 + 3 talks in Moscow are important meetings,” a senior Western official told journalists in Moscow Sunday.

”Iran should come prepared to negotiate seriously and take concrete steps to address the unified proposal laid out” in Baghdad, the official continued.”Iran has a right to peaceful nuclear energy under the NPT, but it must first meet its international obligations,” the official said. “If Iran remains unwilling to take the opportunities these talks present, it will face continuing and intensified pressure and isolation.”

Western diplomats said Sunday they have asked Iran to respond to a detailed proposal put forward by the six-nation negotiating group at a meeting last month in Baghdad. That package called for Iran to halt its production of 20 percent enriched uranium, ship out its 20 percent stockpile, and halt operations at Fordow, a highly fortified enrichment facility built into a mountain near Qom. In return, Iran would get spare parts for old US civilian airliners and fuel and safety upgrades for a reactor that makes medical isotopes.

But some American advisers say if Iran does not show a willingness in Moscow to seriously engage on that interim proposal, then the United States should consider pivoting to a different, higher stakes, approach, that they say would clarify Iran’s intentions.

“We have to see what comes out of Moscow,” Dennis Ross, former senior Obama White House strategist and a consultant to the National Security Council, told Al-Monitor in a telephone interview Sunday. “If Moscow produces something that exceeds expectations, we should try this track. If not, then we have to prepare to pivot, with the US at that point taking the lead to coordinate.”

The current approach, focused on a short-term confidence building proposal that seeks to address Iran’s higher enrichment activities, “had a certain logic,” Ross said. But if it doesn’t start showing results, “given the other pressures the US is under, the Iranians keep enriching, and accumulating, Israeli patience wears very thin. If we want diplomacy to have any success, the current track is unlikely do so. We should offer something more of an end game proposal.”

Ross laid out his proposal—described by some current and former Obama officials as “go big” and first reported by Al Monitor—in the New Republic this week.

“The Obama administration is considering putting forward a broader proposal to Iran, rather than the more incremental one presented at a meeting last month in Baghdad,” Al Monitor reported June 7th. “Those arguing in favor of the ‘go big’ approach say their thinking has been influenced by two recent diplomatic encounters with Iran that cast doubt on the viability of an incremental deal, as well as by Israeli concerns over any interim deal being the last one reached with Iran for the next few years, officials said.”

A number of other Iran analysts, including Andrew Parasiliti of the International Institute for Strategic Studies-US, have urged both sides to put forward an “end game” that can provide  confidence that concessions now will lead to a resolution of the crisis. “To close the deal and advance the negotiations, the P5+1 could recognize Iran’s right to enrichment in the context of Iran being a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and freeze all pending sanctions on Iran,” Parasiliti wrote. “Additionally, the P5+1 might request a good-faith strategic pause in enrichment while Iran resolves outstanding questions about its nuclear program.”

But key US allies are not yet prepared to consider shifting from the current step-by-step approach.

“I don’t think it makes much sense to undercut our own proposal by attacking it,” one western diplomat told Al Monitor Sunday on condition of anonymity. Continue reading