More than one year after negotiations collapsed, the six world powers leading the discourse over Iran’s nuclear program are set to return to talks with the Islamic Republic. The announcement comes as United States President Barack Obama has been asserting there is still time for diplomacy to resolve the nuclear dispute. Despite that sentiment, Obama has also escalated his threats of eventually resorting to military options if necessary to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons.
European Union foreign policy head Catherine Ashton, speaking on behalf of the P5+1—the UK, France, Germany, the US, China and Russia—said in a letter to Iran they hope the talks will include specifics on confidence-building measures.
Such steps had been intended to allay fears regarding a possible military element to Iran’s nuclear program and buy time to negotiate an agreed-upon resolution of the nuclear dispute. Instead, in the previous round of discussions the measures became a key source of disagreement.
In Ashton’s letter to Iran, which was released in a press release, she notes that the P5+1 “remain committed” to the confidence-building steps they previously proposed.
A key element of that was drawing down Iranian nuclear fuel stockpiles and replacing them with nuclear material suited for medical research. Ashton also expressed “readiness to consider any proposals” Iran might make for confidence-building steps.
Wrote Ashton, “These confidence-building steps should form first elements of a phased approach which would eventually lead to a full settlement between us, involving the full implementation by Iran” of international nuclear resolutions.
The EU diplomat’s letter was in response to one from Iran last month that had expressed an openness to renew talks. Ashton suggested they return to the discussions at a mutually agreed-upon date and place “as soon as possible,” and offered for deputy-level officials from both sides to prepare for the first set of talks.
The high-stakes diplomacy comes as international concerns have increased regarding possible military elements of Iran’s nuclear program. Rhetoric about a military solution by the US or Israel to stop or delay Iran’s nuclear progression has also heightened in recent months.
On Tuesday, Obama noted the Iranian willingness to return to talks in a press conference, saying there is “a window through which we can resolve this issue peacefully.”
“We have put forward an international framework that is applying unprecedented pressure,” Obama was quoted as saying in a transcript released by the White House. “The Iranians just stated that they are willing to return to the negotiating table. And we’ve got the opportunity, even as we maintain that pressure, to see how it plays out.”
One element of concern is that Iran will use the discussions more as a delay tactic than good-faith negotiations, which Obama acknowledged has been the case in the past. “There is no doubt that over the last three years when Iran has engaged in negotiations there has been hemming and hawing and stalling and avoiding the issues in ways that the international community has concluded were not serious,” said Obama.
“…To resolve this issue will require Iran to come to the table and discuss in a clear and forthright way how to prove to the international community that the intentions of their nuclear program are peaceful. They know how to do that.”
The US leader said he did not anticipate a “breakthrough” in the first meeting between the sides, “but I think we will have a pretty good sense fairly quickly as to how serious they are about resolving the issue.”
Obama this week expressed some of his strongest rhetoric yet regarding potential military action against Iran, even while making clear he does not feel the time has come for such an approach. “It is deeply in everybody’s interests—the United States, Israel and the world’s—to see if this can be resolved in a peaceful fashion,” said Obama.
“And so this notion that somehow we have a choice to make in the next week or two weeks, or month or two months, is not borne out by the facts… It’s also not just an issue of consequences for Israel if action is taken prematurely. There are consequences to the United States as well. And so I do think that any time we consider military action that the American people understand there’s going to be a price to pay. Sometimes it’s necessary. But we don’t do it casually.”
Ashton, meanwhile, noted in her letter to Iran that the initial talks and confidence-building measures are just steps towards the endgame. “Our overall goal remains a comprehensive negotiated, long-term solution which restores international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program, while respecting Iran’s right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy.”
(By Joshua Spurlock, www.themideastupdate.com, March 7, 2012)