P5+1 hopes new Iran nuclear team responds to Almaty offer

Share

Diplomats from six world powers will meet in Brussels next week in anticipation of resuming nuclear talks with Iran in September, following the inauguration next month of Iran President-elect Hassan Rouhani.

Political directors from the P5+1 will meet in Brussels July 16th, a western official said Wednesday.

The meeting comes as western capitals signaled they hope the new Iran nuclear team selected under Rouhani responds substantively to a confidence-building proposal they presented to Iran at talks in Almaty, Kazakhstan in February.

“We look to a new Government in Iran to give a comprehensive response to the E3+3’s proposal for a confidence building measure, and to co-operate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague told British parliament Wednesday (July 10).

“We will respond in good faith to positive action by Iran,“ Hague said. “We are ready to improve our relations on a step by step basis, but no one should doubt our resolve to prevent nuclear proliferation.”

Hague's comments suggest western capitals have decided for now against pivoting to a “go big” offer when they resume talks with Iran, possibly in early September.

“The P5+1 is asking for a serious response to their serious proposal, which they did not receive [from Iran in the spring] because the Iranians were not in the mood to bargain just weeks before their elections,” Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, told Al-Monitor Wednesday.

“What everyone needs to recognize is that the proposal put forward in Kazakhstan in the spring is the opening position, it is not a take it or leave it proposition,” Kimball said. “It’s in Iran’s interest to offer a counter-proposal in September, or whenever the talks might occur.”

Kazakhstan’s foreign minister, who hosted the last two rounds of Iran nuclear talks, said that Rouhani’s election has made western officials somewhat hopeful about the prospects for progress.

“We hear different commentaries on this election, but the prevailing one is of hope,” Kazakh Foreign Minister Erlan Idrissov told Al-Monitor in an interview in Washington Wednesday. “Internally, [the Iranian people] voted for changes, for development.”

“Mr. Rounani in his own remarks has made very clear he wants greater engagement with the rest of the world,” Idrissov said. “And to create a more conducive environment for growth and development in Iran. There is potential for nuclear talks. It’s a hopeful situation.”

In his meetings this week, including with lead US Iran negotiator Wendy Sherman, American officials have “shared sentiments of hope,” Idrissov said. “Now it’s important, that this period of hope translates into practical things. Kazakhstan is a well-wisher. It would be wise by all parties to seize the moment.”

(Photo: Iran President Elect Hassan Rouhani speaking at a press conference in Iran June 17, 2013. Ebrahim Noroozi / AP.)

zp8497586rq

When Iran's Saeed Jalili met one-on-one with US diplomat Bill Burns

How To Increase Penis Size Naturally. Penis Growth Guide: A Detailed Review read more

Even as Iran presidential candidate and presumed frontrunner Saeed Jalili has flaunted his anti-US hardliner credentials on the campaign trail, it’s worth noting a less remarked-upon aspect of his professional resume. In October 2009, Jalili became one of the only Iranian officials to meet one-on-one with a US diplomat in three decades.

The meeting, with then Under Secretary of State William Burns, now the US Deputy Secretary of State, took place October 1, 2009, at a villa outside Geneva, on the sidelines of Iran nuclear negotiations with six world powers.

Lead US negotiator Burns and Iran’s Jalili held a “one-on-one sidebar conversation,” a White House spokesman confirmed at the time. “The sidebar occurred at the Villa”–Villa Le Saugy, in the Swiss countryside village of Genthod–during a lunch break in the nuclear talks with the so-called P5+1.

Iran and six world powers announced tentative agreement at the Geneva meeting on a nuclear fuel swap deal that would provide fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor in exchange for shipping out most of Iran’s stockpile of 3.5% enriched uranium; but the deal later broke down at follow up technical talks in Vienna.

Iran also agreed at the Geneva talks to let IAEA inspectors visit the secret Fordo enrichment facility at Qom, whose discovery the leaders of the United States, UK and France had jointly announced just days before, at a G-20 summit in Pittsburgh.

“Iran is on notice that when we meet with them on Oct. 1 they are going to have to come clean and they will have to make a choice,” President Barack Obama, flanked by French President Nicolas Sarkozy and UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, said September 25, 2009.

In retrospect, it seems plausible that the Iranians agreed to the sit-down with the Americans in Geneva as a tactical gesture, out of concern over the western reaction to the discovery of the Qom enrichment facility, which Iran only hastily declared to the IAEA after it realized it had been discovered. But one Iranian source, speaking not for attribution, said the political decision in Tehran to hold the bilateral meeting with the Americans had already been taken.

Following the Geneva meeting, US envoys subsequently briefed foreign allies “that the U.S. sidebar meeting with Iranian representatives was direct and candid,” according to an October 5, 2009 US diplomatic cable from the US embassy in Manilla that was released by Wikileaks. While “the discussions were a constructive beginning,” the US envoys also relayed, “they must now be followed by positive action.”

“Iranian press gave considerable coverage to the bilateral meeting between [Under Secretary] Burns and Jalili,” another October 4, 2009 US diplomatic cable, sent from the U.S.'s Iran regional presence office in Dubai, noted. “While little coverage went beyond the Department's announcement that the meeting had taken place, Tabnak noted that unlike Iran's previous discussions on the nuclear issue, this time it was face-to-face with the US.” Another Iranian paper described the meeting as “unprecedented,” the US diplomatic cable continued.

Jalili’s deputy, Ali Bagheri–who has lately been accompanying Jalili on the campaign trail–acknowledged the Jalili-Burns sidebar meeting in an interview with Iran’s state television at the time, but stressed the meeting occurred only at the Americans’ insistence.

“The meeting of the US delegation with the Iranian delegation was held at the request of the Americans,” Bagheri, now deputy of the Iran Supreme National Security Council, told Iran’s state-run TV, Fars News reported at the time, adding: “Elaborating on the contents of sideline talks between the Iranian and American delegations, Baqeri said that the meeting was held merely within the framework of Iran's proposed package.”

Continue reading

‘Most substantive’ Iran nuclear talks to date, but narrow area of agreement


Iranian nuclear experts deeply engaged on the substance of a revised international proposal, and said they are considering suspending 20% enrichment for six months and converting their 20% stockpile to oxide for medical use at technical talks with six world powers held in Istanbul last week, diplomatic sources told Al-Monitor Tuesday.

However, the Iranians raised numerous objections to other elements in a revised international proposal presented in Kazakhstan last month, a diplomatic source, speaking not for attribution, said Tuesday. Among them: suspending other operations at Fordo except for 20% enrichment, shipping out Tehran’s stockpile of 20% enriched fuel; as well as enhanced IAEA inspections.

American officials “had the most substantive conversation they ever had” with the Iranians, another analyst briefed on the Istanbul talks, speaking not for attribution, said. International arms control envoys “went through their [international] proposal slide by slide, and [the Iranians] didn’t focus on [their] counter proposal.”

The Iranians in Istanbul were cool to incentives in the revised offer, including modest sanctions relief, but did not explain what they would want instead, according to the diplomat.

The updated proposal offered to ease sanctions on the gold trade and petrochemical sales, but not major oil and banking sanctions, Al-Monitor reported last month.

Diplomats from six world powers head back to Almaty, Kazakhstan next week for political director level talks with Iran, to be held April 5-6.

Two sources suggested the US may be looking at additional incentives to possibly bolster the international offer, but the details were unclear.

Continue reading

Iran weakness may hinder nuclear deal, strategists say

As six world powers prepare to meet Iran in Kazakhstan at the end of the month, the problem international negotiators may confront is Iran’s reluctance to negotiate from a position of weakness, analysts said Wednesday.

“Rather than play a positive game, it pursues a negative game: to deny the objective of its adversaries,” Middle East analyst Jon Alterman told an Iran conference at the Center for Strategic and International Studies Wednesday. “It does not have a positive goal.”

“Iran has the conviction that …if the U.S. accepts the offer, it must be disadvantageous to Iran,” he said. “So they will work to get the offer down again. To keep from getting the deal that people in the US government would like to strike.”

If the dynamic can’t be changed, “I fear we may spiral down away from a resolution,” he said.

“A negotiated settlement may be doable,” ret. Maj. Gen. James Cartwright, former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the panel. Continue reading

EU, Iran nuclear negotiators Ashton, Jalili to meet in Turkey

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton will meet Iran’s top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili for dinner in Turkey Tuesday night, European Union diplomatic sources confirmed to Al-Monitor Monday.

It will be the first face to face meeting between the chief international and Iranian nuclear negotiators since June.

The informal meeting “is part of continuing efforts to engage with Iran, led by the High Rep, and in line with the understandings reached at the negotiating round in Moscow in June,” a European diplomat told Al-Monitor Monday.

“While it is not a formal negotiating round, the meeting will be an opportunity to stress once again to Iran the need for an urgent and meaningful confidence building step and to show more flexibility with the proposals the E3+3 tabled in Baghdad,” a spokesperson for Ashton said.

Jalili arrived in Ankara for meetings with Turkish leaders Monday ahead of the Ashton dinner, Iran’s Fars News Agency reported Monday.

Western and Iranian analysts alike expressed low expectations for the outcome of the meeting, except to maintain a level of engagement.

“Considering the current circumstances, [the] dinner is just to give public CPR to the talks so they will be alive through November,” Iran analyst Mohammad Ali Shabani told Al-Monitor Monday.

Continue reading

P5+1 negotiators to consult on Iran

EU High Representative Catherine Ashton is expected to have a phone conversation with Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili next week, following the end of Ramadan.

“For the time being, they have agreed to speak on the phone, with [Ashton] consulting closely with her E3+3 colleagues,” a European Union spokesman told Al-Monitor.

Ashton will brief P5+1 negotiators on her conversation. P5+1 political directors may also meet next week in Europe, diplomatic sources told Al-Monitor.

Lead U.S. Iran negotiator, Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, has held discussions with her counterparts in China and Russia this past week, on Iran and Syria.  She has since traveled to London, where diplomatic sources said she is holding meetings with her EU3 counterparts.

“Under Secretary Sherman had very serious discussions with both Deputy Foreign Minister Gatilov and Deputy Foreign Minister [Sergei] Ryabkov, in particular on issues regarding Syria and Iran,” a State Department readout of her meeting Thursday said.

“On Iran, she said we remain committed to the two-track approach, and believe diplomacy still has a chance to succeed,” it continued.

Iran Nuclear Talks in Baghdad Almost Foundered in Final Hours

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

Q/A with David Albright: Iran should come clean about past research

Two telexes–part of a trove of 1,600 obtained by American nuclear expert David Albright– would seem to suggest that Iran’s current foreign minister Ali Akbar Salehi was aware of Iran’s efforts to acquire whole body counters to detect nuclear radiation back in the early 1990s. That is among the findings published in a new series of reports by Albright and his colleague Paul Brannan, of the Institute for Science and International Studies (ISIS).

Albright, in an interview Wednesday, told me that he and Salehi actually have met each other and indeed argued at some “track 2” events among nuclear experts held in New York in the 1990s.

Salehi insisted Iran “had no secret centrifuge programs,” Albright told me. “I responded that ‘based on procurements, you do.'”

“I always found Salehi pretty duplicitous,” he added. “But what surprised me in the current work we did, is he was apparently more involved than I realized.”

Salehi, a fluent English speaker who earned a PhD from MIT in 1977, served for eight years in Vienna as Iran’s envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), from 1997-2005. (Born in Karbala, Iraq, Salehi is also a fluent Arabic speaker–one of the reasons he was tapped in 2010 to become Iran’s foreign minister, at a time when Arab leaders’ hostility to Iran was unusually publicly exposed, including in classified U.S. diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks.). Some Iran experts believe Salehi may be well positioned to run for Iran’s presidency when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s second term expires in 2013.

Back in 1991–the year of the two Salehi-linked telexes Albright uncovered–Salehi was chancellor at Iran’s Sharif University. Albright’s report suggests that the university was, in the late 1980s/early 1990s, part of a network of academic facilities linked to Iran’s Physics Research Center (PHRC), that were used as cover to acquire dual-use materiel for secret parts of Iran’s nuclear program. American intelligence and ISIS believe that Iran halted its secret military research program in 2003.

But Albright believes it’s essential that Iran own up to past alleged weaponization research in order to come in from the cold.

“If Iran comes clean on weaponization, other things can be solved much more easily,” he told me. Continue reading

Shadow diplomacy

The EU’s Helga Schmid and Iran’s Ali Bagheri held meetings in Geneva May 6-7, a diplomatic source told the Back Channel.

The deputy nuclear negotiators for the P5+1 and Iran respectively are due to hold a second meeting this week, but I’ve been asked to hold off reporting the date and location as negotiators are seeking to minimize publicity for the preparatory talks. Schmid and Bagheri are meeting to prepare the agenda for the next round of Iran nuclear talks due to be held May 23rd in Baghdad.

As I noted in a column today, there has been a flurry of decidedly unpublicized diplomatic activity ahead of the next round of Iran nuclear talks, much of it taking place in the shadows: Continue reading