Why did it take so long to secure a date for talks between Iran and the P5+1?
After all, in the weeks before the presidential election in November, it was reported that the United States and Iran had already tactically agreed to convene private, one-on-one talks. And since then the United States, the European powers, Russia, and China, all sought to arrange another round of negotiations, first in December and then in January. It now appears that Iran, which is about to enter its presidential election season, has finally agreed to what will be the first round of negotiations with the P5+1 since the last round in Moscow seven months ago. On Tuesday, Tehran announced that it will join talks on February 26 in Kazakhstan.
The negotiations will be a serious test for the Obama administration and for John Kerry, the new secretary of state. Previous rounds have all faltered because neither side was willing to make concessions to the other, and so far there is little sign that the United States and the P5+1 have improved their offer to Iran very much. As the talks were announced, the Washington Post reported: “The P5+1 powers have made only mild revisions to a proposal that Iran flatly rejected last June.” Until now, the United States has been unwilling to acknowledge Iran’s right to enrich uranium on its own soil and to suggest that some economic sanctions might be lifted as part of a deal, and Iran has refused to agree even to a limited deal called “stop, ship, and shut” – involving the suspension of its enrichment to 20 percent purity, shipping its existing stockpiles of 20% uranium to a third country for processing, and shutting down its underground facility at Fordo, near Qom – without an agreement to lift sanctions.
After the reelection of Barack Obama in November, there were great hopes that the president would have greater political freedom of offer concessions to Iran. Yet, publicly at least, the White House isn’t signaling that it is ready to make a more generous offer to Iran, and in fact Obama in January signed into law yet another round of draconian economic sanctions.
Perhaps as a result, Iran allegedly dragged its feet on setting a date for talks. Despite prodding from the P5+1 – including urgent efforts by Russia — in January Iran reportedly went silent about talks. Russia, increasingly frustrated by the inability of Tehran and the West to negotiate seriously, vented its frustration. “Some of our partners in the six powers and the Iranian side cannot come to an agreement about where to meet," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told a news conference. "We are ready to meet at any location as soon as possible. We believe the essence of our talks is far more important (than the site), and we hope that common sense will prevail and we will stop behaving like little children.”