Iran analysts in Washington suggested the new offer would have included a tit-for-tat deal, whereby the P5+1 would recognize Iran’s right to enrich uranium on its own soil, as long as Tehran agreed to additional and more stringent oversight by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). In addition, Iran would have to halt expansion of its enrichment programme, agreeing not to add more centrifuges to its facility at Natanz. That was designed to be a win-win arrangement: Iran could claim that it had won the world’s acceptance of its enrichment programme, and the United States and other world powers could claim to have won Iran’s agreement to provide iron-clad assurances that its programme wouldn’t be militarized.
In Istanbul, however, Iran refused to negotiate seriously. Instead, Saeed Jalili, the Iranian representative, and his deputy, Ali Baqeri, demanded that the P5+1 accept two preconditions—which Jalili called ‘prerequisites’—before the talks proceeded: first, that the world accept Iran’s right, under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to enrich uranium; and second, that economic sanctions against Iran immediately be lifted. Needless to say, without parallel concessions from Iran, none of the world powers would even consider its demands.To some observers, the demand for an immediate end to sanctions is a sign that the sanctions are biting, but in Istanbul it was clear that the sanctions are just another roadblock that make negotiations more difficult, not easier.
Still, on the final day of the Istanbul talks, Catherine Ashton, the lead representative of the European Union, did manage to present the P5+1 plan to Iran’s Jalili, without seeking an answer then and there. Although Jalili refused to meet one-on-one with William Burns, the State Department official who led the US delegation, he did hold private sessions with Ashton, and later with the Russian and Chinese representatives. Speaking to reporters later, Ashton said that she told Jalili to take the offer home, consult with Iran’s political leaders and think it over, and added that the P5+1 was ready to resume the talks when Iran made its decision. ‘There are no talks planned at the present time, (but) our door remains open, our telephone lines are open,’ Ashton said.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
Both Russia and China expressed the strong desire to resume talks, along with some optimism that they’d be successful. China’s deputy foreign minister, Wu Hailong, urged patience. ‘The Iranian nuclear issue is complicated and sensitive, and obviously can’t be comprehensively resolved through one or two rounds of dialogue,’ he said. More assertively, in the wake of the Istanbul talks the Russian foreign ministry’s spokesman said that the talks had helped to ‘create the atmosphere for a more productive dialogue,’ and added that Iran ‘must see the prospects that open up for it if it takes additional transparency measures on its nuclear programme.’ That latter formulation almost explicitly includes the win-win notion that Iran might continue to enrich as long as it accepts the IAEA’s more stringent ‘additional protocols’. Later, speaking in Washington at an event organized by the Nixon Center, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov rejected reports that the talks in Turkey had failed, adding: ‘A new plan for a fuel swap was proposed during the Istanbul talks.’