Tehran 2010 Agreement Overshadows Perspective of Almaty 2 Meeting

Monday, March 18, 2013

Ali Ghannadi
The Editor of the International Section of Javan Daily

For the fourth time during the past three years, Iran and the P5+1 group of world powers (the US, the UK, France, China, and Russia plus Germany) came together in the Kazakh city of Almaty on February 26-27, 2013, to engage in a new round of negotiations. This meeting was different from past sessions between the two parties. Iran's chief negotiator Saeed Jalili said the talks had been positive and, for the first time, said that negotiations had led to proximity between West’s viewpoints and those of Iran. Jalili added that the West’s approach during negotiations had been more positive than before. The Chinese and Russian negotiators also used similar statements to describe the outcome of negotiations. Of course, the representatives of the Western countries, especially the United States, preferred to suffice to saying that the negotiations had been useful, instead of describing them as constructive or totally positive. The two sides have agreed to meet again in Kazakhstan’s city of Almaty on April 5-6, after going through a single round of expert-level talks in the Turkish port city of Istanbul on March17-18. The Iranian side has noted that during high-level negotiations in February 26-27, the P5+1 neither asked Iran to shut down its nuclear site at Fordow, nor said anything about Iran having to stop or even suspend its uranium enrichment work. The Western negotiators have confirmed that the package of proposals they offered Iran did not contain anything about shutting down of Fordow nuclear site and the issue of enrichment was not raised to the level that would make Iran sensitive. Judging from what the Western negotiators have said, the tone of the P5+1 proposals has been different from their past offers. For example, instead of insisting on the shutdown of Fordow, the 5+1 has changed its approach by asking for “lowering activities at Fordow” or a similar request, or instead of insisting on the need for Iran to suspend the enrichment altogether, they laid emphasis on the necessary of enriching enough uranium in Iran to feed the Tehran Research Reactor. The Western negotiators have claimed that they had used phrases and words with complete tact in order to find a face-saving solution. An unnamed Iranian diplomat also told the Christian Science Monitor following the negotiations that the West’s tone had become softer. Despite all the aforesaid facts, an unnamed American diplomat has alleged that the West has shown no resilience toward Iran.

Reasons for optimism

Western sources say the European and American negotiating parties have made a decision to reduce unilateral sanctions against the Islamic Republic, should Iran agree to their proposals. It is not yet clear how much of the sanctions will be waived, but there have been reports about removing restrictions against Iran barter of crude oil in return for gold, and reduction of certain sanctions against the country’s petrochemical industry. It seems that opening small avenues to ease foreign exchange transactions by Iran are among quid pro quos considered by the West in return for the acceptance of their proposals by Iran. The reports, however, are not clearly documented with regard to easing foreign exchange transactions by Iran. If these reports were accurate, negotiations in Almaty can be considered a point of departure in that the Western side has, for the first time, indicated its readiness to reduce sanctions against Iran. Therefore, the negotiations can be also considered a starting point for both sides to reach an agreement on launching a “step by step” process to “bargain on uranium enrichment and sanctions.” This is exactly the replica of what Saeed Jalili said in his interview with the Christian Science Monitor: “a point of departure.” Of course, Jalili stressed both during the same interview and on the sidelines of the negotiations in Almaty that the two parties have a long way to go. Apart from that, there are certain questions which should be answered here, including: How the two sides will take steps? Which side should take the first step? How long should be the steps taken by either side? All these facts prove that the two negotiating parties have a long way to go.

Let’s not forget April 2010 experience

This is not the first time that Tehran and the Western side have reached the starting point of a new path which may lead to the resolution of the nuclear case. Before that, Iran had reached an agreement with Turkey and Brazil, who actually represented the P5+1 group, following intense negotiations in April 2010. According to that agreement, Iran was supposed to allow transfer of about 1,200 kilograms of low enriched uranium to a third country in return for delivery of necessary fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor. Out of the member states of the P5+1, China and France welcomed that agreement, the United States opposed it, and the Russians showed a lukewarm reaction. That reaction, for the first time, proved the limits with which the government of [the US President Barack] Obama is faced when it wants to engage with Iran for the resolution of the nuclear issue. This point had been singled out in an open letter written by the then Brazilian president, Lula da Silva, later in that process. A few weeks after the April 2012 agreement was reached among the involved parties, the Brazilian government released a secret letter it had received from Obama which showed that before traveling to Iran, Da Silva had obtained Obama’s blessing for the negotiations with Iran over transfer of the Islamic Republic’s enriched uranium to a third country.

The experience gained in April 2012 shows that the Americans are facing serious challenges for entering into bilateral and even multilateral trends which may lead to resolution of the existing key problems with Iran. This also proves that Iran should not reckon too much on the West’s proposals in Almaty. Those who actually make the final decision about lifting, reducing or even escalating tensions against Iran are definitely not the same people who sat behind the negotiation table opposite to Saeed Jalili in Almaty.

A little pessimism is good

The above facts provide just a simple account of the challenge of entering a new engagement trend with which Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, and his colleagues are faced. Jalili and his colleagues have used such terms as “positive,” “realistic,” and “closer to Iran's demands,”… to describe this new trend. The situation will even look more complicated if seasoned with a little pessimism. Why the Western sides in the P5+1 group did not agree to use such diplomatic terms with positive charge as “constructive,” “positive,” and “goodwill talks” when describing the latest round of negotiations in Almaty? Such terms as “constructive” and “positive” had been used by [the European Union’s foreign policy chief and top P5+1 negotiator] Ms. [Catherine] Ashton before the previous rounds of negotiations. However, in Almaty, all of them appeared unanimous and none of them used a positive term to show that the negotiations had been actually “useful.”

The P5+1 sat at the negotiation table with Tehran following an interregnum of eight months. Some reports show that during that period, the European Union and the United States have adopted eight new sanctions resolutions against Iran. Now let’s assume that the general atmosphere governing the first round of negotiations in Almaty has been tense and negative. Will the opponents of negotiations with Iran not allege that such an atmosphere is a sign that the dominant policy of the Obama administration and European governments for imposing crippling sanctions against Iran has been a failure? Will this not be a sign of the failure of engagement policy which has been followed by President Obama and his new Secretary of State John Kerry since he took charge of the US State Department? The European and American negotiators in Almaty needed to see some positive signal being sent to the outside world, at least, after the first round of talks in Almaty. They, however, let the Iranian negotiators as well as the Russian and Chinese representatives to bear the brunt of this task. Catherine Ashton, reacting to the position adopted by Iran's chief negotiator, Saeed Jalili, said, “If Dr. Jalili has said it is positive, then I'm pleased. But we have to look at the results.”

It seems that for the first time after negotiations concluded between Iran, on the one hand, and Turkey and Brazil (which represented the P5+1 group), on the other hand, in April 2010, the recent talks between Iran and the P5+1 group have entered a technical phase which is concerned with the content of the two parties’ proposals. The result of the negotiations between technical experts representing Iran and the P5+1, which started in Istanbul on March 17, and to some extent, the result of future talks with the International Atomic Energy Agency, can show that whether Iran and the P5+1 are able to enter a new phase of engagement in order to resolve the Islamic Republic’s nuclear issue or not. Negotiations in Istanbul can provide a measure for certain issues. First of all, they show how long should be the steps taken by the Western side through a one-on-one negotiation trend.

These negotiations can also end in a general assessment of whether the European governments and the United States have extended the first round of Almaty talks into a second round just to start a long-term engagement process with Iran, or to hold the second round of Almaty talks at a date which is close to Iran's forthcoming presidential polls in June. Finally, a thorough evaluation of the result of the technical talks in Istanbul can provide relative assessment of the ability of Obama administration to overcome structural restrictions which are barring him from entering into a new trend which may lead to the resolution of Iran's nuclear issue. Ultimately, [through such an assessment] it would be possible to answer this crucial question: Is the United States merely trying to keep the door of diplomacy open to Tehran, or is it actually trying to find a solution for Iran's nuclear standoff.

Key Words: Tehran 2010 Agreement, Almaty Meeting, P5+1, Optimism, Pessimism, Engagement Policy, Turkey and Brazil, Nuclear Standoff, Qannadi

Source: Javan Daily
Translated By: Iran Review.Org

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