Negotiations between Iran and the P5+1, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany, wrapped up today in Baghdad and the best news from the meeting is that there will be another round of talks, in Moscow, next month. As long as the two sides keep talking, something good could transpire.
The third round of talks would hone in on a uranium enrichment freeze and a potential fuel swap, where Iran gets their enriched uranium for civilian nuclear energy from the outside:
The talks, according to U.S. and European officials, will be focused on freezing Iran’s production of enriched uranium to 20% purity—a level deemed dangerously close to weapons grade—and shipping its stockpile of the nuclear fuel out of the country.
The diplomatic bloc negotiating with Iran, which is comprised of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, plus Germany, is offering Tehran economic and diplomatic inducements in a bid to constrain its nuclear program [...]
In particular, Tehran has sought a scrapping or a delay of an EU oil embargo set to be imposed on July 1, according to Iranian officials. This action is expected to endanger as much as a third of the Iranian government’s annual revenues.
“The Iranians were not wowed” by the P5+1′s offers, a senior U.S. official said late Thursday. But the diplomat said negotiators had flexibility to come up with new inducements heading into the Moscow talks.
Under international law, Iran has the right to freely enrich uranium to 20% which is still considered low-enriched uranium. So they are clearly being pushed into this position by the financial sanctions, including the oil embargo.
I can see the P5+1 asking for the constraints on uranium enrichment for essentially nothing, and I can see the Iranians asking for not just the dropping of the oil embargo but far more inducements. Without being in the room, I cannot know. But at any rate, while there are differences, both sides are talking, which is an improvement over the shouting from earlier in the year.
Catherine Ashton, the lead negotiator for the European Union, who hilariously calls the negotiating team the “E3+3″ (i.e. Britain, France and Germany, representing Europe, along with the US, China and Russia) instead of the P5+1, made this statement upon the close of the negotiations:
In line with our agreement in Istanbul, the E3+3 laid out clear proposals to address the Iranian nuclear issue and, in particular, all aspects of 20% enrichment.
We also put ideas on the table on reciprocal steps we would be prepared to take.
Iran declared its readiness to address the issue of 20% enrichment and came with its own five-point plan, including their assertion that we recognise their right to enrichment.
Having held in-depth discussions with our Iranian counterparts over two days – both in full plenary sessions and bilaterals – it is clear that we both want to make progress, and that there is some common ground. However, significant differences remain. Nonetheless, we do agree on the need for further discussion to expand that common ground.
This is generally where you would expect things to be in a legitimate negotiation. The proposals are serious and not a set of unreasonable demands.
Juan Cole believes that this round of diplomacy is having the beneficial impact of averting war:
The sanctions and threatened blockade have brought Iran to the negotiating table. But the Iranian state, as opposed to the Iranian people, is not terribly worried about the Western sanctions, since its petroleum income is sufficient to buffer the government from unrest at anything above $54 a barrel, well below the current price. The state, in short, is still getting rich even with the sanctions, and can evade the blockade by using soft currencies like the Indian rupee and by resorting to barter trades (oil for wheat, e.g.). The Iranian state probably is sufficiently cushioned from the sanctions that state actors will not be harmed by even the stringent US sanctions. Thus, Tehran doesn’t absolutely need to make urgent concessions, though it does want to show some flexibility, in hopes of getting the sanctions dropped or at least softened (especially the UNSC sanctions, since Iran wants to separate out the uber-hawkish US government from its United Nations Security Council colleagues.
The main good thing about the talks is that as long as they continue, they make it hard for anyone to start a war.
And that’s definitely the outcome the world should seek.