A Flicker of Optimism on Iran
Image Credit: Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader

A Flicker of Optimism on Iran


There’s a flicker of optimism about the May 23 talks in Baghdad between Iran, the P5+1 world powers, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) over Iran’s nuclear program. A tentative accord between Iran and the IAEA, reached in Tehran on Tuesday between Yukiya Amano of the IAEA and Saeed Jalili, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, bolstered optimism on the eve of the Baghdad meeting.

However, even if doesn’t stall, the process of solving the standoff over Iran’s program has a long way to go. At best, say analysts in Washington, the most that can be achieved this week is a confidence-building, interim accord that keeps the talks rolling and, perhaps, sets up task forces involving technical experts to work out details of a broader accord. Amano, in his meeting with Jalili, suggested that the two men may have agreed on a step-by-step process in what the IAEA chief called a “structured” framework. “The decision was made by me and Mr. Jalili to reach agreement on the structured approach,” he said. Whether that agreement can be finalized, and what effect it might have on much thornier issues involving whether or not Iran will be allowed to continue to enrich uranium and what will happen in regard to economic sanctions that have been imposed on Iran, is yet to be determined.

The Baghdad talks are a follow-up to talks held April 13-14 in Istanbul, which were the first substantial talks between the two sides in more than two years. And at least one retired, senior American diplomat reacted positively. “For the first time in 32 years, since the Iranian revolution, there is the possibility of serious, substantive and sustained talks with Iran,” said Nicholas Burns, who served as deputy secretary of state during the administration of George W. Bush.

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But, analysts point out, “sustained” talks mean that the negotiations are likely to go on for quite some time, likely well into 2013.

In order for the talks to succeed, both Iran and the United States will have to make substantial concessions.

Dennis Ross, who until earlier this year served as President Obama’s chief adviser on Iran, told reporters in a conference call on May 22 that he could envision an agreement that allows Iran to continue to enrich uranium but limits it in a way that would preclude Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, by proscribing the number of centrifuges Iran can operate, the amount of low-enriched uranium it can amass, the purity of that enriched uranium. However, he said, so far the Obama administration hasn’t accepted that principle. Even so, said Ross, if an accord can be reached that allows Iran to maintain a civilian nuclear program, including enrichment, and can construct a firewall against militarization of that program, even in an election year, “You would go for it.” He added, “I’m not persuaded that just because it’s an election year, it’s impossible to reach an agreement.”

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