Two days of talks between Iran and the P5+1 — the permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany — came to a close on Tuesday in Geneva. It’s no surprise that there was no agreement, given how far apart the sides started off. Incoming report indicate there was progress as both sides made their concerns known to the other.
“We have had nearly two days of detailed substantive talks focusing on the Iranian nuclear program and the need for Iran to comply with its international obligations,” European Union High Representative for Foreign Policy Catherine Ashton said in a statement Tuesday at the conclusion of the talks between diplomats from the United States, Britain, France, Germany, China, Russia and Iran.
“We and Iran agreed to a continuation of these talks in late January in Istanbul, where we plan to discuss practical ideas and ways of cooperating towards a resolution of our core concerns about the nuclear issue,” Ashton concluded, walking out without taking any questions from journalists.
Bob Dreyfuss of the Nation offers a good analysis of the talks so far and what to expect going forward. He also comments on a letter sent to President Obama by five Senators (Casey, Gillibrand, Kirk, Kyle and Lieberman), insisting the United States must not negotiate any agreement that would result in uranium enrichment on Iranian soil. The Iranians are sure to reject such a pre-condition.
Although the first two days of talks this week didn’t accomplish much, it’s critically important that the talks are happening, and both Iran and the United States are making positive noises about them. Iran, for its part, after saying all along that it wouldn’t even discuss its nuclear program, did exactly that, and the two sides have agreed to continue talking and to meet again, possibly as soon as January, in Turkey. The choice of Turkey is a particulary good sign, since the Turks had repeatedly offered their good offices as mediators in the dispute, and last spring Brazil and Turkey tried to restart the talks by working out an updated version of the October 2009 deal that later fell apart.
As for what’s next, Dreyfuss reports that “insiders” tell him a fuel swap deal might be in the works as a “confidence-building measure.” The deal could allow Iran to maintain enrichment, with the fuel shipped off to Russia for reprocessing. Perhaps this is what inspired the Senators’ ‘zero enrichment’ letter.
All this comports with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent comments in Bahrain (in the presence of Iran’s foreign minister, no less) that the U.S. recognizes Iran’s “right to a peaceful nuclear program,” and an interview just ahead of those conference remarks where she said, “They can enrich uranium at some future date once they have demonstrated that they can do so in a responsible manner in accordance with international obligations.” (Note that the BBC version of this comment has Clinton using slightly different language.)