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Iran Talks End in Harsh Lesson for West

Over the past few weeks, there has been growing optimism in western capitals that Iran might be forced into a compromise over its nuclear program and avoid a war with Israel and the US.

However, after two days of anguished talks this week between Iran and world powers in Baghdad, such hopes were doused in a very cold dose of reality.
As Israel and the US make contingency plans for a possible strike, the six powers – the US, EU, UK, France, Germany, Russia and China – put a proposal to Iran that would have seen Tehran freeze its production of more highly enriched uranium in return for a package of inducements from the US and EU, such as providing parts for Iranian civil aircraft.

But after often fraught bargaining in Baghdad, diplomats left declaring they had made no progress at all. “It’s been a difficult few days,” said a European diplomat in Baghdad. “After our first meeting in Istanbul with Iran a few weeks ago, we were euphoric. Now we’re a lot more realistic about just how difficult this negotiation is.”

The lack of success in the Iraqi capital does not signal the end of the process. The talks between Iran and the international powers still have a few rounds left before the end of this year, when Israel and the US must decide on military action.

There was also the occasional indication in Baghdad that Iran is softening its approach to the US. On one occasion, Saeed Jalili, Iran’s chief negotiator, had a brief conversation with Wendy Sherman, the US chief diplomat at the talks. “That’s something he hasn’t been willing to do before,” said a diplomat. “You can call it a semi-brush-by.”

That said, western diplomats left Baghdad under no illusion about how difficult it will be to strike a deal with Iran this year.

Some experts say it would have been surprising if Iran had accepted the package in Baghdad. Acquiring airline parts is a minor concession compared with what Iran is seeking in this negotiation, such as the scaling back of punitive sanctions and securing international acceptance of its right to uranium enrichment.

Besides, Tehran has room for manoeuvre, particularly because the US is determined that talks must not break down before its presidential election.

Washington is desperate to stop Israel carrying out an attack before November – an event that would drag the US into war and also destabilise President Barack Obama’s chances of re-election. “As a result, Jalili could come to the talks retaining his maximalist bargaining position that Iran will give away nothing unless sanctions are reversed,” said a diplomat.

Some diplomats leaving Baghdad said a positive feature of the meetings was that Iran engaged in discussion of its nuclear programme, something it has not done before. “In [the April meeting in] Istanbul, they didn’t want to discuss anything,” said a diplomat. “In Baghdad, they did get into details.”

However, what is also clear is that the negotiations will get a great deal harder if there is no clear progress at the next meeting in Moscow on June 18. The meeting comes just before US and EU energy and banking sanctions take full effect on July 1, after which a breakthrough will be much more difficult.

At the same time, failure at Moscow will force Mr Obama to ratchet up the rhetoric against the regime in order to counter Republican accusations that he is being strung along by Iranian prevarication.

And while negotiators await the outcome of the Moscow talks, contingency planning for an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities is intensifying in the US and Israel.


James Blitz

May 25, 2012

Related link – http://tinyurl.com/762qfn7


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