Iran Nuclear Talks in Istanbul: Breaking the Deadlock

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Nasser Saghafi-Ameri
17 April 2012

The ritual of nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1(the US, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany) is continuing for some years now. First it was with the EU3, the three European countries: Britain, France, and Germany, that later extended to the present P5+1 composition. The gaps in the position of two the sides of these negotiations were so deep that stretched to decisions about the agenda and even the venue of these meetings. Before the recent meeting in Istanbul –the second in row and after 15 months- there was little hope for success, after reports in media that the US would put some unacceptable demands on Iran regarding enrichment. As for the venue of the conference Iran proposed Baghdad instead of Istanbul. Luckily, media reports proved to be unfounded and a compromise was reached for the place of the meeting. The first round in Istanbul and second round (as announced later) is scheduled to be held in Baghdad on 23th of May.

From all indications by the participants, Istanbul meeting was successful. As reported by media two sides have agreed on a framework for future negotiations; and apparently a formula based on Russian proposal for step by step approach and reciprocity is agreed upon. Overall, an environment of optimism prevails for future talks. The question often asked is what happened that brought about a change in the approach of the P5+1.

Certainly, what makes the second Istanbul nuclear talks distinctive from the previous meetings is that it agrees to base its future talks on the principles of the Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT). In other words it recognizes Iran's right for peaceful use of nuclear energy. The EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton declared after Istanbul meeting that: "We have agreed that the nonproliferation treaty forms a key basis for what must be serious engagement to ensure all the obligations under the treaty are met by Iran while fully respecting Iran's right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy." Of course, this development occurs at a time when Iran has attained nuclear capability while demonstrating its continued commitment to the NPT

This is indeed a victory not only for Iran, but also for some 40 other countries in the group of Non Weapon Nuclear States (NWNS), and for all members of the NPT who cherish the viability of this important Treaty. 

In the past meetings between the P5+1 and Iran, Iran's nuclear program was challenged in an unsubtle manner. Lacking any evidence on Iran's divergence toward nuclear weapons, the opposite side focused on the question of intentions, where any answer could be easily contested. The ultimate goal of P5+1was clear; they wanted Iran to abandon its nuclear program. However, the change of mood in the P5+1 seems to be not only caused by Iran's nuclear capability and in attempt to pursue it to remain in the bounds of the NPT, but also due to major geostrategic changes that have occurred or taking shape in Iran's spheres of influence. The last but not least, is an important statement by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, categorically denouncing the possession and use of nuclear weapons. Any person with little knowledge of Iranian establishment and system recognizes the authority that message beholds on Iran's commitment to the nuclear non proliferation.

 Apparently, those considerations also motivated the policymakers in Washington to think twice before falling into the traps of the 'new cons' and Israeli lobby to venture into a new war against Iran. In the same vein, the sanctions including those that are called 'crippling ', has not been effective in changing Iran's nuclear policy. In fact some sanctions on oil and trade is poised to harm some European countries even more than Iran.

Iran’s nuclear program has been on America’s foreign policy agenda for the last twenty-plus years, distracting it from more vital issues and interests. For instance, in Afghanistan, the US and its allies are desperately in need of Iran's help, before and after their departure from that country in 2014, for peace and stability in that country. Iran is also in a position to help for bringing peace and stability in the wider region of the Persian Gulf and the Middle East. To make that scenario possible, the Obama administration has to accept the new geopolitical realities of the region and of course Iran's legitimate interests.

But, being in the middle of presidential elections, Obama's options seem to be limited at the moment. It is not difficult to imagine that the positive approach by the West in Istanbul meeting would not have been possible without the American blessing. It is hoped that the present trend could prevail, laying the ground for a fundamental settlement of differences with Iran during the Obama's second term in office if he is reelected.