Some Basic Facts about Negotiations in Moscow

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Mehdi Mohammadi
Expert on Nuclear Issues

The termination of nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 group – the United States, Britain, France, China, Russia, plus Germany – certainly marks the beginning of a difficult and complicated process of assessment and analysis. As a result, both sides of talks – Iran and the P5+1 – will have a difficult task of “understanding the situation” and “depicting future” outlooks ahead of them.

In the meantime, certain misinterpretations have been in the offing which should be taken quite seriously.

1. No location or date was set for the next round of negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 in the course of Moscow talks. The time announced, namely July 3, 2012, is simply the date of expert meetings between the two sides. In other words, negotiations which are expected to take place in [the Turkish city of] Istanbul will not even involve the deputies of the two sides’ chief negotiators, but will go a level lower. They will be limited to merely technical discussions between the two sides’ experts. Whether there will be further negotiations between the two parties’ deputies, or further meetings between [Iran's top nuclear negotiator] Dr. [Saeed] Jalili and [his counterpart in the P5+1] Catherine Ashton, and whether a further official session of talks will be scheduled between Iran and the P5+1 will totally depend on those expert meetings. As a result, if the experts fail to achieve a minimum level of agreement and cannot find a common ground for the continuation of talks, it is very possible that no date will be set for the next round of negotiations at all. This actually means that [the future] negotiations is surrounded by ambiguities and, as put by Dr. Jalili in his press conference on July 19, continuation of talks will totally depend on the other side’s behavior.

2. It is quite clear that the P5+1 aimed for the expert meetings to simply focus on explaining their proposal to Iran, which can be summarized in three words: “halt, stop, and transfer.” However, what the two sides finally agreed on, which was also clearly mentioned in Catherine Ashton’s statement, was that the experts should focus on both sides’ proposals. Therefore, their main mission is now to discuss both parties’ proposals instead of one party explaining its proposal to the other party.

3. The P5+1 group were provided with remarkable amount of details in Moscow. One of the main reasons which greatly reduced the two parties’ progress in Moscow talks was that the P5+1 sufficed to repeating what they had already told Iranians during Baghdad meetings without coming up with any new idea. The Iranian side, on the other hand, had gone to Moscow with a lot of detailed material some of which was presented to the P5+1. The group, however, failed to consider Iran's ideas and plans and to answer them in Moscow meeting. Therefore, it was clear from the very outset that the two-day period considered for Moscow negotiations was by no means enough to analyze the content of Iran's package of proposals. As a result, the output of Moscow meeting was what Iran had emphasized on before negotiations kicked off: the necessity of holding expert-level meetings. Even the content of Moscow talks testified to authenticity of what Iran had declared before negotiations got underway: that lack of readiness on the other side to engage in expert meetings will reduce the chance of progress in Moscow negotiations.

4. Now, after the end of negotiations, Western sides claim that they have reached the conclusion that sanctions [against Iran's oil sector and the central bank] should be enforced in June and July. There are two points to be considered here. Firstly, since expert-level meetings are to be held just five days after enforcement of new US sanctions against Iran on June 28, they will be under direct influence of Washington’s sanctions against Iran's oil sales and the central bank. Therefore, there is high possibility that this issue will affect setting a date for the next round of talks between Iran and the P5+1. Secondly, as Dr. Jalili said in his press conference in Moscow, enforcement of sanctions on Iran will certainly receive a suitable response from Iran, warning that the P5+1 cannot evade the costs of imposing sanctions on Iran for good.

5. Last but not least, as China emphasized following the Moscow talks, the most important issue on the agenda of those talks was the framework within which the two sides will ask for tangible steps to be taken. This is exactly the most important point on which the Iranian side has emphasized. Depending on the framework within which these requests – for example, the request for discussing 20-percent uranium enrichment – are put forth, Iran's response will be different. By emphasizing on the framework, Iran wants to know what further requests will follow what is initially asked from Iran, and where this whole process is meant to lead to. This, Iran believes, is the most important issue which should be addressed by the P5+1 group.

Key Words: Negotiations in Moscow, Basic Facts, Iran and P5+1, Continuation of Talks, Expert Meetings, Sanctions, Mohammadi

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