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News | Ashton, Jalili Describe 'Intense' Talks; Next Round: Moscow in June

by MUHAMMAD SAHIMI

25 May 2012 03:00Comments

Press Roundup provides a selected summary of news from the Farsi and Arabic press and excerpts where the source is in English. Tehran Bureau has not verified these stories and does not vouch for their accuracy. Any views expressed are the authors' own. Please refer to the Media Guide to help put the stories in perspective. You can follow breaking news stories on our Twitter feed.

AshtonBaghdadPresserIRNA.jpg3 a.m. IRDT, 5 Khordad/May 25 After the conclusion of two days of talks between Iran and the P5+1 group (the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany) concerning the Islamic Republic's nuclear program, the chief negotiators for each side -- European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Saeed Jalili, secretary-general of Iran's Supreme National Security Council -- spoke to a group of reporters in Baghdad. Ashton addressed the journalists first, then Jalili.

Ashton's remarks

As reported by the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) and Reuters, Ashton said,

We expect Iran to take concrete and practical steps to urgently meet the concerns of the international community, to build confidence, and to meet its international obligations. We have met with our Iranian counterparts over the last two days in very intense and detailed discussions. In line with our agreement in Istanbul, the E3+3 [P5+1] laid out clear proposals to address the Iranian nuclear issue and, in particular, all aspects of 20-percent [uranium] 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-percent enrichment and came with its own five-point plan, including their assertion that we recognize their right to enrichment.

Having held in-depth discussions with our Iranian counterparts over two days, both in full plenary sessions and in bilaterals, it's 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 the common ground. We will go back to respective capitals and consult; we will maintain intensive contacts with our Iranian counterparts to prepare a further meeting in Moscow, arriving on the 17th of June, with talks to begin on the 18th and 19th of June.

As we have already agreed, the talks will be based on a step-by-step approach and reciprocity. We remain determined to resolve this problem in the near term through negotiations, and will continue to make every effort to that end. We believe that there are many reasons to continue the negotiations. We have, of course, different views. But we have set the date and location for the next round of negotiations, and we will attend it fully prepared.

When asked about Iran's reaction to the P5+1 proposal, Ashton responded, "We made a clear proposal, and talked about uranium enrichment at 20 percent level. Do not ask me to give you the details. Other problems were also brought up. I believe that there are good common grounds [for further talks]."

Jalili's remarks

As reported by ISNA, Jalili said,

The talks were long and intense. They began yesterday [Wednesday] afternoon, and are continuing, and have been going on most of the time. As I said, the negotiations were extensive, but were incomplete. Both sides had their views and proposals. We had a good atmosphere, and both sides expressed their views very clearly and transparently. The result was that both sides have a better and clearer view of the other side's [views].

Jalili then spoke about the proposal Iran put forward three years ago:

JaliliBaghdadPresserIRNA.jpg
In that package, we had suggested some issues for discussion and we believe that the scope of the discussions provides an opportunity to discuss issues that can contribute to peace and security in the region. In the Istanbul discussions, the two sides agreed on the issues to be discussed -- first, about nuclear issues, and second, about non-nuclear ones that both sides are interested in.... In our package of three years ago we had suggested that, based on democratic values and respect for nations' rights and views we can propose many ideas for regional problems, one of which was about Bahrain and respect for the rights of its people, the significance of democracy, and the equal rights of the people to vote. The other side had two issues for discussion, one of which was about confronting pirates [in the Indian Ocean and Red Sea] and the security of sea lanes, while the second was about narcotics trafficking, and the Islamic Republic submitted its proposals about both.

Regarding the nuclear issues, we had long, serious, and fundamental discussions, and we had serious proposals for nuclear cooperation. What is important in these negotiations is respecting nations' rights, and particularly those of the Iranian nation. We believe that peaceful use of nuclear energy is a right of all the signatories of the NPT [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty], and our slogan is "Nuclear energy for everyone, nuclear weapons for no one." The Islamic Republic fulfills its NPT obligations, and it is an active member of the NPT and supporter of disarmament. An important issue in the use of nuclear energy is the fuel cycle and uranium enrichment. This is our fundamental right, and in accordance with the NPT we have the right to make peaceful use of nuclear energy and the right to enrich uranium. It is based on such principles that we accept negotiations regarding nuclear cooperation. Another important issue is having the trust of the Iranian people. The path for negotiations for nuclear cooperation can be constructive only if there are not any parallel destructive paths [a reference to economic sanctions], which is an important issue to us.

Jalili emphasized that much ground remains to be covered. "The experts will discuss the various issues and prepare the background for the Moscow negotiations. We hope that through a path of cooperation, which is the only path for such negotiations, we can have successful and forward-moving discussions." When asked whether the fact that the delegations of the P5+1 countries were led by their respective deputy foreign ministers, who lack much authority, contributed to the negotiations being long, Jalili responded, "That the negotiations became long was due to several ideas and issues that were discussed and were brought up bluntly by both sides, which was indicative of the seriousness of the negotiations."

When asked how Iran's rights can be guaranteed, Jalili responded, "We believe that the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] and the NPT...must be strengthened. This can be done if there is a balance between the rights and obligations of the member states. The members must have the same amount of rights as they fulfill their obligations, which can be a powerful incentive for the members to use their nuclear rights."

Regarding the enrichment of uranium to 19.75 percent (commonly rounded to 20 percent), a contentious issue in the negotiations, Jalili said,

Over two years ago we needed enriched uranium at 20 percent for a peaceful use. The Tehran reactor is a research reactor which produces [isotopes] for medical and agricultural use -- over a million patients use them annually. Thus, we needed 20 percent-enriched uranium as fuel for the reactor. We wrote a letter to then Director-General of the [International Atomic Energy] Agency Mr. Mohamed ElBaradei, and asked the agency to supply us with the fuel. According to its charter, the agency has an obligation to facilitate access of its members to peaceful use of nuclear energy. But the issue, which has only medical applications, experienced opposition, and they did not supply us with enriched uranium at 20 percent. We had suggested that they [the Western powers] sell us the fuel, but they refused. Thus, we have tried to produce the fuel indigenously. Thanks to our young scientists, whose average age is the same as the age of the Revolution [33 years], we have been able to enrich uranium at 20 percent. Today, over one million patients are using [the results of] this, and this is done under the monitoring and inspection of the agency.

When asked under what conditions Iran may be willing to stop enrichment at 20 percent, Jalili responded, "As I said, we emphasized that the right to enrichment is in the NPT and its revised version, and in fact it is a [fundamental] right of the member states. In fact, it was emphasized that uranium enrichment for peaceful use is the right of all the member states. Thus, regarding this issue, if there is anything to cooperate on, we will be willing to do so."

Separately, Jalili told the Islamic Republic News Agency, "What has ended today is the path and approach of pressure on Iran. This is a futile approach, and the only way to guarantee success is a path of cooperation." When asked about whether the continuation of the negotiations implies that some members of P5+1 will not impose planned sanctions, or cancel them, Jalili responded, "If the negotiators wish the discussions to be successful, they should choose the path of 'negotiation-cooperation.'"

***

IranianDelegationTableISNA.jpgEarlier on Thursday, ISNA published a long dispatch that seemed to convey Iran's official sentiments regarding the negotiations. In the report's description, "It appears that some Western nations, particularly the United States, are creating hindrances in the negotiations to prevent them from succeeding. According to some political pundits, the way Barack Obama is handling the negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 is reminiscent of what President Jimmy Carter did [during the U.S. Embassy hostage crisis] that made him the big loser of the U.S. presidential elections [in November 1980]."

The report continued,

Iranian diplomats close to the negotiations believe that the P5+1 group came to the Istanbul negotiations with a more positive attitude than in Baghdad. It appears that they are not following the reciprocity principle that had been agreed upon in Istanbul [whereby for every step Iran takes, the P5+1 takes a simultaneous step]. While there was an optimistic environment in Istanbul that indicated that there was the possibility of reaching an agreement, which continued up until the negotiations in Baghdad, it appears that the atmosphere in these negotiations are like the [Baghdad] environment, full of dust and ambiguity, and getting darker. [...]

Iran considers the proposed package by the P5+1 as addressing minor issues, and unbalanced. That is the difference between the packages suggested by both sides. Iran's is comprehensive, while that of the P5+1 is not.

In another item, ISNA quoted Iranian Ambassador to France Ali Ahani as saying, "The West cannot create trust in Iran by continuing its sanctions. We must continue uranium enrichment for our non-military nuclear energy program, but we are not seeking anything beyond this. Our priority is enrichment up to 5 percent." According to ISNA, China and Russia have taken a constructive approach to the negotiations, seeking a peaceful resolution to the crisis and insisting on no new sanctions. ISNA quoted Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov as saying, "It appears that Iran is ready for concrete steps to end the confrontation over its nuclear program," while warning that further U.S. sanctions may "weaken the efforts" for a diplomatic solution. An unnamed Iranian official told Al Jazeera, "We believe the reason the P5+1 is not able to reach a result is America. [The P5+1] came to Baghdad without a clear mandate, so we think the atmosphere is difficult."

The pivotal issue has been Iran's enrichment of uranium to 19.75 percent. The P5+1 wants Iran to immediately stop enrichment at this level, and Iran seeks concessions in return. In particular, Iran wants at least a scaling back of the stringent sanctions on its oil exports and Central Bank transactions, but the Western powers have evidently offered little if anything in those areas. The P5+1's incentive package apparently includes medical radioisotopes (of the sort produced by the Tehran Research Reactor, which uses 19.75 percent-enriched uranium as fuel), some nuclear safety assistance, and spare parts for civilian airliners that are sorely needed in Iran. But the P5+1 has apparently rejected Iran's call for an immediate easing the sanctions imposed on Tehran for flouting U.N. Security Council resolutions that demand the suspension of all enrichment.

An unnamed senior U.S. official told Western news agencies that there was a "fair amount of disagreement" with Iran after both sides exchanged verbal proposals on Wednesday. Fars News Agency, which is closely linked with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, reported that "the tone of the P5+1 delegates changed on Thursday afternoon, because they recognized that they [too] must contribute to creating trust between the two sides."

A senior U.S. official, again unnamed, predicted that the pace of the talks would accelerate in upcoming rounds. "We are urgent about it, because every day we don't figure this out is a day they [Iran] keep going forward with a nuclear program," said the official. "There are all kinds of assessments about how long it will take them to get there. We still think we have some time for diplomacy, but it's not indefinite."

Copyright © 2012 Tehran Bureau

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