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Q&A | Istanbul Talks in a Nutshell

15 Apr 2012 19:06Comments
Michael Adler is a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Previously he covered the International Atomic Energy Agency for Agence France-Presse. He was in Istanbul for the talks.
What happened during the talks?

The most concrete result of the meeting in Istanbul on April 14 was a new round of talks scheduled for May 23 in Baghdad. The original goal was to restart diplomacy between Iran and the world's six major powers -- Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United States, nicknamed the P5+1 -- because of concerns that Iran is secretly trying to develop a nuclear weapon. Diplomacy had broken down in January 2011 when Iran said at a meeting with the P5+1, also in Istanbul, that it would only negotiate if sanctions against it were lifted and if its right to enrich uranium were accepted without reserve. The success at the new Istanbul talks was that Iran did not impose such preconditions. The two sides discussed Iran's nuclear program but did not try to agree on measures to do something about it.

What does this mean?

It means that the two sides are talking again. This is probably the result of pressure on Iran from sanctions, which now target its ability to sell oil, the lifebood of its economy. These sanctions by both the United States and the European Union are to take effect this summer but they are already being felt as countries such as Turkey and Japan are also cutting back on buying Iranian oil. In Istanbul, Iranian negotiator Saeed Jalili said Iran expected relief from sanctions in return for its cooperation in giving guarantees that it does not seek nuclear weapons.

What happens next in this process?

Before the meeting in Baghdad, experts from the two sides are to work on an agenda of concrete measures to be considered at this new round. Outstanding issues are Iran's enriching uranium, which can be fuel for power reactors but also the raw material for nuclear bombs, to 20 percent, closer to weapon-grade and so worrying to the United States and other nations. The goal is to get Iran to agree to confidence-building measures, such as stopping 20 percent enrichment, and for the P5+1 to figure out how to reward such behavior, perhaps by pledging not to increase sanctions or by lifting some of them.

What are the main differences between the parties?

Iran feels it is doing nothing wrong. It claims it has the right to enrich uranium as part of peaceful nuclear work authorized under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Iran says its nuclear program is a legal effort to use the atom for peaceful ends. The United States and its P5+1 partners suspect that Iran is using a civilian atomic program to hide a drive either to just develop the capability to make nuclear weapons or to go ahead and make them. The six world powers insist that Iran obey U.N. Security Council resolutions calling on it to suspend uranium enrichment, to answer questions about its nuclear work from the U.N. watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency and to allow for wider inspections of its nuclear facilities by the IAEA.

This article is presented by Tehran Bureau, the U.S. Institute of Peace, and the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars as part of the Iran project at iranprimer.usip.org.

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