The first official nuclear negotiations since Hassan Rouhani came to power in Iran have concluded in Geneva. And while the negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 will continue in November, this week’s meetings have raised several crucial questions.
Can these talks be characterized as positive diplomatic and political moves for all sides, including Iran, Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany? And how can we characterize and analyze the Iranian presentation, titled “Closing an unnecessary Crisis: Opening new horizons”, which aimed at proposing ways to address international concerns on Iranian programs in return for sanctions relief and international recognition of Iran’s right to enrich uranium?
Firstly, these two-day talks should be contextualized within the larger context of past and future negotiations between Iran, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and the P5+1. These talks and first round of negotiations ought not be analyzed and viewed as the sole indicators of success or failure in the discussions on Iran’s nuclear enrichment and program.
Without doubt, several indications from these first formal talks project a constructive image of the negotiations. Michael Mann, spokesman for Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s top foreign policy official and the lead negotiator in the talks, said that the Iranian proposal had been “very useful … For the first time, very detailed technical discussions continued this afternoon.”
Other recent diplomatic progress can be seen at the bilateral meetings between the U.S. and Iranian delegations — meetings that can be regarded as an extension of a potential U.S.-Iran rapprochement, Rouhani’s charm offensive, and the exchange of letters and pleasantries between Rouhani and Barack Obama.
Despite being in the early stages, the talks seem to have been more of a success for Iran than the U.S. and its Western allies. Speaking in English and using PowerPoint to outline his proposal, the U.S.-educated foreign minister, Javad Zarif, created the first (and necessary) positive impression that would set the stage for future nuclear talks and the possible easing of sanctions that are crippling Iran’s economy. The Iranian lauded “serious” talks that had been conducted in a “highly positive atmosphere.”
Iran has now made it much more difficult for the Western powers to make an effective case for further sanctions on Iran. The critical issue, however, is whether Iranian authorities as well as representatives of P5+1 have achieved their major political and diplomatic objectives with regards to Tehran’s nuclear program.
The significant complexities and nuances of the objectives of Iran, the IAEA, and P5+1 have not yet been made clear based on these two-day talks in Geneva.
Tehran’s fundamental aim is to ease the economic sanctions and put an end to the country’s prolonged economic isolation through a softening of its tone and making efforts to reach a resolution.
The West’s major objective is to move from cautious optimism to confidence, with the ability to assert that Iran is not pursuing its nuclear program for weaponry but rather for peaceful purposes with full transparency.
It remains to be seen whether Iran and the P5+1 can achieve their goals in these talks, particularly at a time when the underlying political gap between the Iranian and Western stance on Tehran’s nuclear enrichment seems to be too deep to bridge.
In these talks, Iran has clearly stated that it possess the right to continue enriching uranium according to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, with Western leaders pointing out that Iran ought to slow down or suspend its activities until a resolution is reached.
The next round of negotiations will undoubtedly shed more light on the nuances and underlying complexities of the situation. Only then will we find out whether these talks marked a new chapter in Iran’s relationship with the West, or merely a disappointing continuation of the last one.
Majid Rafizadeh is an Iranian-Syrian author and scholar, Middle East expert, and U.S. foreign policy specialist. He is the president of the International American Council and serves on the board of Harvard International Review at Harvard University and Harvard International Relations Council.