Iranian and European officials have set out to build on an agreement reached on Saturday to hold another round of talks over Iran’s disputed nuclear programme. Chief EU diplomat Catherine Ashton, Iranian negotiator Saïd Jalili and the representative of the six countries negotiating with Iran — the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany —known as 5+1 group, met in Istanbul. Their next meeting is scheduled for May 23, in Baghdad.
The last set of nuclear talks got no result, more than 14 months ago. The Iranians refused to even discuss uranium enrichment. Meanwhile, they have continued with that activity. Tehran insists it is for peaceful, civilian use, such as energy production and medical ends.
The West has tightened sanctions on Iran and Israel has threatened a pre-emptive military strike on its facilities because of fears it is working on atomic weapons capability.
The international community continues to demand that Tehran stop its enrichment, notably at Fordow, where Iran is suspected of having produced warhead-usable uranium with equipment protected within mountain rock.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) late last year became increasingly critical, supporting western contentions that the weapons threat was credible.
However, this was in the face of criticism from well-placed western voices who also said the evidence needed thorough checking.
Yukiya Amano, IAEA Director General, said: “I have this information and assessment, I must alert the world. This is my duty as the Director General.”
The November warning led the European Union to consider reinforcing sanctions, including on general trade, finance and oil, with the United States.
Going into the January meeting, Ashton said: “we will be discussing and finalising additional sanctions, particularly focusing on the central bank (of Iran) and on oil exports (from Iran). But I do want again to reiterate that this is part of trying to get a twin track approach, the pressure of sanctions is designed to try and make sure that Iran takes seriously our request to come to the table and meet.”
The EU’s ban on importing Iran’s oil is planned from this July. In a retaliatory move, Iran has already cut oil exports to France and Britain, and to Greek firms unable to pay. So, while more talks on the horizon are seen as a hopeful sign by some, ample potential for disruption remains.
Assessment of Iran nuclear talks in Istanbul
Nuclear programme talks in Istanbul, between Iran and six world powers ended with both sides calling them “constructive” and “positive”.
Assessing the summit is Professor of International Relations and Strategic Military Studies at the Royal Military College of Canada Dr Houshang Hassn-Yari.
euronews: “Mr. Hassan-Yari, Iranian officials previously insisted that they will not stop uranium enrichment as part of their nuclear programme. But Iran’s Foreign Minister also said, after the talks, that Iran won’t let the negotiations reach a dead end. How can we put these two together?”
Hassn-Yari: “We should see what Iran means by not wanting to let the talks reach a dead end. If this means an end to uranium enrichment, then this is a positive step from the viewpoint of the group of six, and, it can, in a way, be the beginning of a process of confidence-building between the two sides.”
euronews: “Can Iran entering into a new round of talks be perceived as a commitment to solving the problem of its nuclear programme?”
Hassn-Yari: “Not necessarily. Iran has always taken part in these talks, but has stepped away from them at the crucial moments. Therefore, we’ll have to see if the upcoming talks in Baghdad will prove fruitful or not.”
euronews: “Can we say that confidence-building has practically started?”
Hassn-Yari: “It could definitely be the first step in a long road. Iran announced before the Istanbul conference that they are proposing new ways for getting out of the deadlock and Mrs. Ashton’s remarks about the talks having been “constructive” and “useful”, is somehow an approval of the assessment made by Iranian negotiator Saeed Jalili.”
euronews: “Israel’s Prime Minister has expressed dismay over the timing of the second round of the talks in Baghdad which is scheduled for five weeks later. What could be the reason for this?”
Hassn-Yari: “Israel has always wanted a suspension of Iran’s nuclear programme, particularly an end to the uranium enrichment process, as Israel regards this as a threat to its existence; therefore, Netanyahu has, in the past few months, used tactics to help put more pressure on Iran through sanctions, and to spin the situation so that a global consensus can be reached, if necessary, for attacking Iran.”
euronews: “Iran’s Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said that within the five weeks until the next round of talks, the representatives of the EU’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Iran should prepare a road map; how do you assess these remarks?”
Hassn-Yari: “As these talks in Istanbul were a basis for further rounds of talks, in the run-up to the Baghdad negotiations, the two sides should reach an agreement on a framework that can set a way forward and make clear whether these future negotiations will be at all meaningful.”