This site is no longer active. Please click here for details.

Delegations from Iran and other world powers sit before the start of closed-door nuclear talks at the United Nations offices in Geneva

From the European venue to the power point presentation in English, this week’s nuclear negotiations with Iran showed a new seriousness that bodes well for a future agreement, even if it does not guarantee one.

Iranian officials, from U.S.-educated Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on down, spoke in English, dispensing with time-consuming translations, and outlined a new proposal specifying an “endgame” to the nuclear dispute and a staged process to get there.

Both sides brought technical experts who began to discuss the proposal in detail while agreeing to meet again before another plenary session November 7-8 in Geneva – not Almaty or Baghdad or somewhere else logistically difficult, as prior Iranian negotiators have demanded.  The Iranians also dispensed with their usual litany of complaints against the West for imposing sanctions on Iran and for what they say is a “double standard” that holds Iran to a greater degree of compliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty than other signatories.

At the end, Zarif and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton issued a joint statement – something which has not occurred in previous rounds.

The statement described the talks as “substantive and forward looking,” and said that Iran’s outline was “being carefully considered” by the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany (the P5+1) and that “nuclear, scientific and sanctions experts will convene before the next meeting to address differences and to develop practical steps.”

In a brief press conference that followed, Ashton said that the two days of talks were “the most detailed we’ve ever had by a long way” and that both sides had set out their positions on “a number of issues.”

While the Iranian proposal – and the P5+1 positions – were not made public, Iranian officials have suggested that they are willing to limit the quality and quantity of their nuclear program and accept more stringent international monitoring in return for sanctions relief and outside acceptance of some level of uranium enrichment on Iranian soil. These officials have also made clear that they do not expect the U.S. Congress to repeal sanctions at the start of the process – something Congress assuredly would not do – but hope the U.S. executive branch will use its authority to ease pressure on the Iranian economy in return for the Iranian steps – and convince Congress not to pass new sanctions.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (R) gestures next to European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton during a photo opportunity before the start of nuclear talks at U.N. offices in Geneva October 15, 2013. (Reuters)

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (R) gestures next to European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton during a photo opportunity before the start of nuclear talks at U.N. offices in Geneva October 15, 2013. (Reuters)

The composition of the U.S. team was instructive in that regard. Among the participants was Adam Szubin, head of the U.S. Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, which polices U.S. and international financial transactions with the Islamic Republic to make sure they abide by U.S. law. There is much that Szubin could do to signal U.S. goodwill, including opening a direct U.S.-Iran banking channel for trade in humanitarian goods such as food and medicine. While U.S. law exempts such trade from sanctions, U.S. medicine in particular has not been getting into Iran because U.S. suppliers can’t find a practical method of getting paid. The same problem applies to European humanitarian transactions with Iran.

Iran, of course, also needs to show good faith by not adding to its stockpile of low-enriched uranium and to the 10,000 centrifuges currently spinning away in its nuclear facilities. It would also help if a reactor at Arak – which when operational, would produce plutonium, another potential bomb fuel – is not completed.

British Foreign Secretary William Hague, in a statement released on Wednesday at the conclusion of the Geneva talks, said he welcomed “the more positive approach taken by the Iranian Government,” that Zarif “presented a basis for negotiations and … diplomats have for the first time begun more substantive discussions with Iran on how to address the international community’s serious concerns about Iran’s nuclear program.”

But Hague continued, “we should not forget that Iran’s nuclear program is continuing to develop,” while the talking continues. “There is a great deal of hard work ahead, but we must not waste this opportunity.”

The views expressed in this Insight are the author’s own and are not endorsed by Middle East Voices or Voice of America. If you’d like to share your opinion on this post, you may use our democratic commenting system below. If you are a Middle East expert or analyst associated with an established academic institution, think tank or non-governmental organization, we invite you to contribute your perspectives on events and issues about or relevant to the region. Please email us through our Contact page with a short proposal for an Insight post or send us a link to an existing post already published on your institutional blog.

Barbara Slavin

Barbara Slavin is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council and a correspondent for Al-Monitor.com, a website specializing in the Middle East. She is the author of a 2007 book, "Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies: Iran, the US and the Twisted Path to Confrontation," and is a regular commentator on U.S. foreign policy and Iran on NPR, PBS, C-SPAN and the Voice of America.

2 Comments

  1. Jalalluden Habibi

    November 28, 2013

    iran+israel= brothers = iblis

    Reply
  2. Munir Gafuri

    October 24, 2013

    Like other countries in the world Iran has right to continue its peaceful nuclear program. Instead of putting pressure on Iran P5+1 should put pressure on Israel to destroy it's nuclear weapons and join NPT.

    Reply

Add comment