World Powers, Iran ‘Set the Table’ in Nuclear Talks

Really moderate, or just for show? Iranian President Rouhani. Illustrative. FEMA/Marty Bahamonde.

Really moderate, or just for show? Iranian President Rouhani. Illustrative. FEMA/Marty Bahamonde.

For years, we’ve heard that all options are “on the table” with regards to Iran’s nuclear program, including a military strike if necessary to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. Well if all options were on the table before, that table is now being defined in the talks between Iran and the world powers.

Following technical expert meetings between the sides, a senior US administration official told reporters in a background briefing released by the State Department that they were able to delve into details in this round of higher level talks. “We understand each other’s concepts. We understand each other’s concerns. And you have to set that table to be able to really begin to negotiate. You can’t just dive into the negotiations without setting the table. I think we’ve done that,” said the official. Now comes the hard part: reaching a deal.

The official acknowledged that gaps exist on issues such as uranium enrichment and the Arak heavy water reactor, both of which can provide fuel for nuclear weapons.

Of course, one issue that Iran keeps wanting to take off the table is ballistic missiles. The Iranians keep saying that won’t be part of the talks, but the US official repeated that the Joint Plan of Action defining the talks said that the “UN Security Council resolutions must be addressed”—which include concerns about missiles able to carry nuclear weapons. “So in some way, this will have to be addressed,” said the official.

Lately, it has appeared that Iran has looked more steadfast in sticking to their side, while the US has seemed more open to compromise. While that may or may not be true, it was encouraging to see the US still demanding that missiles stay on that negotiation table.

Meanwhile, the main news from the official seems to be that the talks with Iran have gone from a general discussion to in-depth detail. “As to where we are in the process of the agreement, it’s really hard to put a number on it. These kind of negotiations have a rhythm to them,” said the US official.

“One has to, as I said, set the table, then you have to dig into what you’re eating—again, that’s a terrible metaphor—and try to go to work. We have gone to work in a very serious and substantive way.”

Now that the table is set in the talks, it remains to see if everyone will finish full and satisfied, or if someone will get food poisoning.

(By Joshua Spurlock,, March 20, 2014)

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