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Iran nuclear standoff – talks for the sake of talks

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Iran nuclear standoff – talks for the sake of talks


After many rounds of negotiations on Iran’s nuclear programme the EU’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton could only say “talks for talks’ sake” is not the point of such gatherings.

This was a damning outcome and reflected what diplomats had predicted before beginning the Moscow talks. British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a statement “This is a missed opportunity to address the serious concerns of the international community”.

The political negotiations are now suspended and talks will be downgraded to expert level, a move that could have worked only if there was a breakthrough in the higher level talks.

“We set out our respective positions in what were detailed, tough and frank exchanges,” said Lady Ashton. “However, it remains clear that there are significant gaps between the substance of the two positions.”

“The choice is Iran’s,” she added. “We expect Iran to decide whether it is willing to make diplomacy work, to focus on reaching agreement on concrete confidence-building steps, and to address the concerns of the international community.”

The Iranian narrative, however, was a little more upbeat. The country’s chief negotiator, Saeed Jalili, said this round of talks was more serious than the two other meetings since April, held in Istanbul and Baghdad.

“Moving along the constructive path of negotiations and cooperation can bring about a future success of talks,” he said.

Sanctions biting

I was in Tehran in January and witnessed the collapse of the Iranian rial against western currencies to about half of its value. It happened shortly after a new round of sanctions that restricted Iran’s central bank.

In a meeting with a Finance Ministry official at the time, I asked if, in his opinion, this was an obvious example of how sanctions were biting. He categorically denied it, but failed to offer any alternative reason for the currency’s free fall. However, he pointed out that Iran has “circumvented all sorts of sanctions for over 30 years” and that he did not think any others imposed as a result of the nuclear programme should be different.

This might be pure bluff. The EU sanctions that curb purchases of Iranian oil come into effect on July 1. The Persian Gulf country’s oil exports have already fallen by 40 percent this year, according to the International Energy Agency.

The talks

The United States, China, Russia, Germany, France and Britain resumed diplomacy in April after a 15-month pause. They say Iran’s nuclear programme may have military dimensions, a charge that Iran denies. Sanctions were increased and Israel threatened to bomb Iran’s atomic facilities in the meanwhile if diplomacy did not bear any fruit.

The powers want Tehran to stop enriching uranium to levels that bring it closer to weapons-grade. They also want Iran to ship any stockpiled material out of the country, close down the Fordow underground enrichment facility and permit more intrusive United Nations inspections of its work.

Britain’s William Hague also said: “Iran should not doubt our commitment to a peaceful, negotiated solution. But it should understand clearly that in order to achieve this it must be willing to take urgent, concrete steps to reassure the international community to which we will respond. Our door remains open for serious engagement and negotiations.”

After six rounds of United Nations’ Security Council sanctions and many rounds of negotiations, talks still seem to be for talks’ sake.

Follow Ali Sheikholeslami on Twitter

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