Report: Vienna Talks and Agreement over Time Frame for Negotiations

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Compiled By: Firouzeh Mirrazavi
Deputy Editor of Iran Review

The first round of negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 group of world powers aimed at achieving a comprehensive agreement over Iran’s nuclear energy program has ended in the Austrian capital city of Vienna. Following the talks, high-ranking officials of both negotiating sides were quoted as saying that a framework has been set for the continuation of nuclear negotiations in coming months. However, it appears that despite both negotiating parties have been taking a win-win approach since their negotiations in the Swiss city of Geneva, expectations from this round of talks in Vienna have been at their lowest.

During recent months since the signing of the Geneva agreement in last November up to the present time, two issues have added to the complexity of the process of nuclear negotiations. The first issue was sudden request by the American side for the inclusion of Iran’s ballistic missiles in the negotiations with the second issue being allegations by certain American officials who claimed that Iran will be the final loser in the negotiations. Such a claim can make the future course of negotiations much more difficult.

The issue of Iran’s ballistic missiles has been never raised in Iran’s negotiations with the P5+1 group. However, the American officials have recently claimed that in view of the text of the United Nations Security Council resolutions against Iran, this issue should be also put on the agenda of the talks. Despite these allegations, Iranian officials have clearly noted that the new allegations on the Iranian missiles and their inclusion in the negotiations is not acceptable for Iran because it is a secondary issue and, of course, a red line for Iran. They also argued that if Iran succeeded to prove that it does not pursue to produce nuclear weapons, it would be meaningless to claim that Iran would be able to use such missiles in order to deliver nuclear warheads.

Further allegations by the American officials about who would be winner and who would be loser in nuclear talks was another issue which has led to challenges. Insisting that there is no need for Iran to continue to enrich uranium on its soil, or talking about the necessity of the continuation of economic sanctions against the Islamic Republic and repetition of the threadbare threat that “all options are on the table” against Iran, have been among US officials’ allegations during recent weeks that have caused problems.

At any rate, it is clear that despite the emphasis put by both negotiating parties on the progress that has been made in Vienna negotiations and determination of a framework for the continuation of those negotiations, non-constructive positions and steps taken by the American officials are now among the most important challenges facing the negotiation process. This issue, of course, has been reminded to the opposite party by the Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

On the other hand, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released its latest report on the implementation of Safeguards Agreement in Iran on Thursday, February 20, 2014. The report stipulated that Iran has complied with its obligations as per the Geneva agreement of November 2013, which is technically known as the Joint Plan of Action. As such, the country has already reduced its 20-percent enriched uranium stocks. According to the IAEA's report, Iran’s stocks of 20-percent enriched uranium have been reduced to 161 kilograms in February 2014, down from 196 kg of 20-percent enriched uranium back in November 2013. The IAEA report also shows that Iran’s stocks of 5-percent enriched uranium have been increased from 7,154 kg in November 2013 to 7,609 kg. The IAEA's report was circulated among its member states only a few hours after Iran and the P5+1 group had finished the first round of their negotiations aimed at achieving a comprehensive agreement on Iran’s nuclear energy program, and were making plans for the next round of their talks on March 17, 2014.

The implementation of Iran’s interim agreement with the P5+1 group started on January 20, 2014. In its latest report, the IAEA has also given a full account on the implementation of that agreement and also dedicated part of the report to the ongoing nuclear activities of Iran. The IAEA has stressed in its report that Iran has provided the UN nuclear agency with updated information on its heavy water reactor in Arak. Based on the IAEA report, no new parts have been added to the reactor. The report has also noted that measures taken by Iran and the increasing obligations accepted by the country constitute a step forward, but more measures should be yet taken for the resolution of all the existing problems.

Since the implementation of the Geneva interim agreement has started on January 20, the negotiating parties have until July 11, 2014, to reach a comprehensive agreement. Although, a top Iranian nuclear negotiator, Abbas Araqchi, has noted that the Islamic Republic is not willing for the negotiations to become protracted, the complexity of the negotiation process and existence of many details, which call for due attention, may extend that deadline for another six months. Of course, the American officials also noted on the sidelines of the recent negotiations in Vienna that they, likewise, are not willing for the negotiations to take a long time.

On the other hand, continuation of negotiations has encouraged foreign companies, especially the Western ones, to look for more economic opportunities in Iran’s 80-million strong market. The Islamic Republic is a country with huge oil and gas reserves whose estimated value has been put at 500 billion US dollars. The push for restarting trade with Iran by these companies may also put double pressure on the member states of the P5+1 group to remove sanctions against Iran as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, Wendy Sherman, the US State Department’s Under Secretary for Political Affairs and Washington’s top negotiator in P5+1’s talks with Iran, set off for Israel following the first round of negotiations on a comprehensive nuclear agreement with Iran in Vienna to report to the Israeli officials on the aforesaid negotiations. Later on, Sherman noted that to meet its practical needs, Iran can continue a limited scale enrichment program under supervision of the IAEA within framework of the final comprehensive agreement that will be reached on Iran’s nuclear energy program. As such, the remarks of the US undersecretary of state can put an end to about three months of contentions and propaganda hype that tried to prove to the world that Iran’s enrichment right has not been recognized in the Geneva agreement.

The two sides’ technical experts are to meet in early March 2014. Also, on March 17, a new meeting will be held between negotiators from Iran and the P5+1 group. Iran and the P5+1 delegations will be respectively headed by the Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton.

Key Words: Vienna Talks, Time Frame for Negotiations, Iran and the P5+1, Geneva Agreement, Iran’s Ballistic Missiles, Mohammad Javad Zarif, IAEA, Wendy Sherman, Catherine Ashton, Mirrazavi

*Photo Credit: Fars News Agency

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