Iran RSVPs to Nuke Talks, adds caveats

The European Union told reporters on Friday that Iran responded to it’s offer for P5+1 talks on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear stand-off with the West.

The New York Times reports:

In a two-paragraph letter answering an invitation offered more than three months ago by the bloc’s foreign affairs chief, Catherine Ashton, the Iranians said their senior negotiator, Saeed Jalili, could hold discussions as of Nov. 10. Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said last month in New York that Iran was prepared to resume talks, but gave no specifics. […]

Ms. Ashton called the Iranian agreement “very important,” but given the tortuous path of past talks, there was no sense that it signaled any breakthrough. […]

Western officials have said they are not in any particular rush themselves to revive negotiations. New sanctions agreed to this summer are just beginning to bite, officials have said, and seem to be having an even greater impact on Iran than expected. On the other hand, they say, the longer this drags out, the more time Iran has to add to its stockpile of enriched uranium.

The Iranian letter pointed out that the talks would have to resume under the conditions of Mr. Jalili’s “letter of 6 July.” In it, the Iranian negotiator said that talks should aim to engage and cooperate, that they should be committed to the rationale of dialogue, and that Ms. Ashton should state her “position on the nuclear weapons of the Zionist Regime” — a reference to Israel, which does not confirm or deny that it has nuclear weapons.

On Saturday, Reuters added to the mix new comments from a media adviser to Ahmadinejad who said that Iran’s nuclear program would not be on the table at these talks (which are meant to be on Iran’s nuclear program):

Both sides have said the talks could happen after November 10, but Ali Akbar Javanfekr, a media adviser to the president, said they would not cover the nuclear issue — the one subject the other countries want to address.

“We will not be talking with the Western party about the nuclear energy issue in this round of the negotiations,” Javanfekr said, according to the semi-official Fars news agency. […]

Javanfekr said the P5+1 countries had yet to address Ahmadinejad’s conditions for resuming talks. He did not say what the talks would cover if they do not address the nuclear issue.

Reuters went on to print recent comments by Ahmadinejad on the subject, including his demand that negotiating parties recognize Israel’s covert nuclear weapons arsenal (estimated at some 200 missiles); the Iranians seem delighted to draw attention to this hypocrisy.

The Obama administration, via a leak to the Times, recently tipped its hand about its soon-to-be-renewed fuel swap proposal.

In its report about the Iranian offer, the Christian Science Monitor noted that Turkey and China — two countries which Iran hawks view as part of the problem because of their trade ties to Iran and hesitance to endorse escalation measures — deserve credit for helping encourage the Iranians to get back to the table.

Ali Gharib

Ali Gharib is a New York-based journalist on U.S. foreign policy with a focus on the Middle East and Central Asia. His work has appeared at Inter Press Service, where he was the Deputy Washington Bureau Chief; the Buffalo Beast; Huffington Post; Mondoweiss; Right Web; and Alternet. He holds a Master's degree in Philosophy and Public Policy from the London School of Economics and Political Science. A proud Iranian-American and fluent Farsi speaker, Ali was born in California and raised in D.C.