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News | Iran and 'Divided' P5+1 Exchange Proposals to End Nuclear Standoff


24 May 2012 05:45Comments

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AshtonJaliliBaghdadCloseup.jpg5:45 a.m. IRDT, 4 Khordad/May 24 The first day of negotiations in Baghdad between Iran and the P5+1 group -- the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany -- ended Wednesday evening; the talks will resume Thursday. Saeed Jalili, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator and secretary-general of the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC), also met separately with Catherine Ashton, the European Union foreign policy chief who leads the negotiations for the P5+1. Jalili's deputy at the SNSC, Ali Bagheri, likewise met separately with the Chinese delegation. Bagheri apparently also met with German diplomat Helga Maria Schmid, Ashton's senior adviser. In secret negotiations in an undisclosed location last week, Bagheri and Schmid had agreed on the agenda for the Baghdad meeting.

Each side has reportedly submitted a package of proposals. In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said, "Our understanding is that at the first session today, the EU3+3 [P5+1] side put forward a detailed proposal which includes confidence-building measures that can pave the way for Iran to demonstrate that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes and for it to comply with its UNSC [United Nations Security Council] obligations. And then this approach would also include step-by-step reciprocal steps aimed at near-term action on our part if Iran takes its own steps."

It appears that by Wednesday evening hopes for quick progress had faded. The P5+1 apparently presented Iran with a list of stringent demands involving the curbing of its uranium enrichment, but offered little sanctions relief in return. The Christian Science Monitor reported that Iranian officials have said the new package by the P5+1 goes beyond the "step-by-step" and "reciprocal" process that had been agreed upon in the round of talks held in Istanbul last month. According to the Monitor, one Iranian diplomat said, "The response from the Iranian side is, 'What you are asking for is not what we agreed to in Istanbul.'" The diplomat added, "Steps were meant to be 'reciprocal, simultaneous, and...balanced' in their value to each side. Instead, Iran was told Wednesday that there would be 'consideration' of easing sanctions 'later,' after Iran made concessions."

The P5+1 package apparently requires Iran to comply with U.N. Security Council resolutions and "immediately" halt enriching uranium to 19.75 percent (commonly rounded to 20 percent, though the small difference is significant), and to ship its stockpile of uranium enriched to that level out of the country. While various reports from Tehran over the past few weeks had indicated that Iran may be open to such a proposal, it also expected to receive a significant concession in return, which the P5+1 package apparently does not contain. At the same time, full compliance with Security Council would require Iran to suspend its enrichment of uranium even at the 3.5-5 percent level, which Iran is unlikely to accept, at least in the absence of major incentives or concessions.

Michael Mann, Ashton's chief spokesman, said, "We are getting into the substance of the matter.... We hope the Iranians will respond positively. We're going to make solid progress if things go well." While the Western powers are "hopeful" that Iran will have a positive response to their set of proposals, according to Mann, he indicated that sanctions would not be eliminated as an immediate consequence of the Baghdad talks. IRNA, Iran's official news agency, quoted one of its correspondents as saying, "The problem with the P5+1 package is that there is no balance, and there is nothing [for Iran] to get in return for what they [Iran] give."

BaghdadRoundtable.jpgIn response to a question about the mechanism for reciprocal steps by both sides, the State Department's Nuland said, "This is a package of first steps, so Iran would take some steps and then we would take some steps [emphasis mine]. We will see how Iran reacts to that proposal. But [the negotiators] are in the middle of it now, so I think we will let them finish, and then I'm sure there'll be some press statements after they're finished."

Iran has announced that it offered a comprehensive package of five basic points to the P5+1 after the first session of talks wrapped up. It is said to involve both nuclear and unspecified nonnuclear issues, which may concern regional security matters, in particular the crisis in Syria. Various sources have reported that Iran has not changed it principal position, namely, that it is entitled to the use of nuclear technology, including uranium enrichment, for peaceful purposes. Iran's package reportedly envisages a step-by-step approach to resolve the dispute over its nuclear program, and the practical steps the Western governments should take in parallel. Press TV, the English-language subsidiary of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, reported that the members of the P5+1 are divided over how to respond to the Iranian package. IRNA similarly reported that there is no consensus among the P5+1 members, reflected by the fact that a member of the U.S. delegation said that Washington would still pursue new sanctions, to which Russia has announced its opposition.

Iraqi government spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said that "no negative signals have been exchanged between the two sides." He added, "The Iran and P5+1 negotiations have entered a sensitive phase.... The P5+1 conveyed its offers to the Iranian representatives and is waiting for a response." In the United States, aboard Air Force One en route to Colorado Springs, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said,

The talks are underway in Baghdad, as scheduled, and the fact that they are taking place as a continuance of the initial round [in Istanbul] is a sign of progress. The initial round was important because the Iranians focused on their nuclear program, and that will continue to be the case, we hope. I don't have any readout of today's meetings, but I can say that we want to see this effort succeed. Any process has to have as part of it reciprocal actions and Iran must demonstrate it is serious about moving forward with addressing the concerns of the international community. As I said yesterday when asked about the announcement by the IAEA director [Yukiya Amano], the fact that there are positive steps forward is absolutely worth noting, but we judge Iran by its actions, not by its promises. And so we will continue to press forward with our allies and partners with the unprecedented sanctions regime as we, on a separate track, work with our P5-plus-1 partners to pursue an effort to resolve this conflict diplomatically.

Copyright © 2012 Tehran Bureau

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