A new round of talks on the Iranian nuclear program opened in Moscow today, and Iran has already made an opening bid:
Three hours after the talks began, a report on state-controlled Iranian television said that Iran would not consider curtailing the enrichment of uranium to 20 percent — a key goal for international mediators — unless the major powers acknowledged that Tehran had the right to enrich uranium and lifted sanctions.
Iran has long sought these two concessions in exchange for curtailment of enrichment to 20 percent, but they go far beyond what the six major powers have proposed.
That’s not entirely true. Francois Hollande has admitted that France has the right to enrich uranium and keep a civilian nuclear energy program, under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Others in the West have been more intransigent, and Hollande has muted his views somewhat since his first interview in Slate.fr.
It’s not like anyone went into these talks with high hopes anyway. The concessions offered by the P5+1 (the permanent five members of the UN Security Council and Germany) in exchange for Iran ending 20% enrichment and shipping their enriched uranium out of the country were pretty weak last time around – some aircraft parts and reactor safety upgrades, along with vague promises for eventual sanctions relief. Nowhere did the P5+1 offer anything wide-ranging like a right to civilian nuclear energy, even though it’s already conferred by treaty.
Iran state TV has called the proposed deals “unbalanced,” and unchanged from the previous round of talks in Baghdad, which was unworkable. Meanwhile, the effects of increasing sanctions on Iran have begun to take their toll on society:
New reports by government and independent analysts show Iranian oil exports — the country’s economic lifeblood — are down by 40 percent compared with a year ago, as more of Iran’s traditional customers turn to other suppliers to avoid economic sanctions. A report last week by the International Energy Agency said Iran was storing tens of millions of barrels of unsold oil in offshore tankers and would probably soon run out of space, forcing it to drastically cut production.
Meanwhile, the “full implementation of the most severe sanctions to date on Iran’s oil and banking sectors is just weeks away,” the IEA’s monthly Oil Market Report noted, referring to a European embargo of Iranian oil set to begin July 1.
Consumer prices have risen 40% in Iran, and their currency has devalued 50%. The thinking in the West is that this will force action from the Iranians, which explains their reticence to engage in much good-faith bargaining. That, a Presidential election in the US, and the concerns of the incumbent party that actually showing progress on Iran diplomacy would actually be seen as a bad thing.
Whereas there were at least some positive possibilities at the outset of the last round of talks in Baghdad, there’s not much to smile about here.