International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Yukiya Amano with Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Said Jalili (Photo:AFP)

Wednesday marked the start of major talks between a delegation of Iranian officials and the P5+1 countries, the USA, Britain, Russia, Germany, France, and China. As I mentioned in a previous post, many eagerly await the results of these negotiations, both in Iran and the United States. Yet because of the contentious nature of the debate on Iran’s nuclear program, the Associated Press reported on May 23, 2012 that the talks would be extended through Thursday May 24, 2012. The following are updates on the negotiations, their progress, and their obstacles :

  • Western negotiators requested that Iran freeze its uranium production, which is currently at 20 percent enrichment, and allegedly close to bomb grade material. In exchange they offered access to commodities that Iran could use, such as medical isotopes and spare parts for civilian airliners.
  • Iran made the noteworthy concession of agreeing to allow IAEA inspectors to inspect the Parchin complex in southeastern Tehran, a site where UN officials believe Iran conducted explosive tests in 2003.  Although this was seen by many as a substantial concession, the EU remains firm in its resolve to carry forward its July 1 oil embargo, which will halt half a million barrels of Iranian oil imports a day. Some are concerned that once Iranian officials realize the P5+1 countries will not budge on sanctions, at least at this stage, they will lose interest before negotiations advance.
  • There is still great mistrust of the Islamic Republic among some P5+1 countries, mainly the United States and Israel. Hawkish sections of the United States policy community have expressed fear that Iran’s willingness to negotiate is a bluff. For example, in Wednesday’s edition of the Wall Street Journal,  Republican Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham wrote: “The Iranian regime’s long record of deceit and defiance should make us extremely cautious about its willingness to engage in good-faith diplomacy.” Israel is similarly skeptical. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak has publicly expressed his view that Iran is intentionally prolonging the talks in order to buy time and stave off international pressure on the Islamic Republic to curb its enrichment levels.
  • In response to the ‘package’ that the P5+1 delegates have assembled for Iran, which mainly revolves around cutting its uranium enrichment, Iran has released a counter-proposal, on ” nuclear and non-nuclear issues.” The details of both packages will only be released after the close of these talks. Although these talks have now been pushed through Thursday, there is enough reason to assume it is in the interest of  both sides to prolong the negotiation period further.

While it is important to consider these developments, it is still too soon to discern the path these negotiations will take. Both sides must acknowledge that significant progress is always slow, especially in a scenario where “both want to get the most and give the least.” Officials must keep this in mind, particularly the Iranian delegation which has declared the P5+1 proposal ‘ unbalanced.’ Both sides must not let discouraging, and in the short term even costly, aspects of a compromise override the larger long-term benefits that will potentially emerge from a better relationship.

 

 

 

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