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A win-win road map for nuclear negotiations with Iran in Moscow

If the P5+1 insists on its hard line with Tehran, the Moscow negotiations will be doomed. The US and its allies must recognize that both sides have their own constraints as well as winning cards to play. If there is political will on both sides, the road map for a diplomatic solution is clear.

By Muhammad Sahimi / June 18, 2012

Michael Mann, spokesman of European Union Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton, attends a meeting with the media in Moscow June 18. Op-ed contributor Muhammad Sahimi says 'No deal with Iran can be reached without a major concession by the US and its allies.'

Sergei Karpukhin/Reuters

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Tehran, Iran

The next round of negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 group – the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany – begins in Moscow today. The initial optimism after the first round of negotiations in Istanbul gave way to caution after the Baghdad negotiations in late May. The developments over the past two weeks do not, however, bode well for the negotiations.

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Helga Maria Schmid, senior adviser to Catherine Ashton, the European Union foreign policy chief who leads the P5+1 team, has sent a letter to her Iranian counterpart, Ali Bagheri, indicating that P5+1 will take a hard line in Moscow.

In her letter to Mr. Bagheri, Ms. Schmid has stated that the P5+1 is willing only to discuss the proposal she put on the table in Baghdad. According to that proposal Iran must immediately cease uranium enrichment at 19.75 percent, in return for which the P5+1 will make minor concessions to Iran – providing Iran with spare parts for its old civilian aircraft bought from Europe and the United States, supplying some nuclear isotopes used in medical treatment, and cooperating with Iran on nuclear safety issues.

None of the tough sanctions already imposed on Iran, or about to be imposed on July 1, will be cancelled or even suspended. If the P5+1 insists on this hard line, the Moscow negotiations will be doomed.

The US and its allies must recognize that both sides, not just the P5+1, have their own constraints, as well as winning cards to play. In the US, the hawks and Israel lobby do not want any diplomatic solution to the nuclear standoff. The Senate has been busy passing one resolution after another, trying to make it impossible to negotiate with Iran. Hardliners within Iran’s security, intelligence, and military forces, particularly in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, also do not want to make any concession to the West.

And, while the sanctions imposed on Iran have worsened the economic plight of ordinary Iranians to the extent that the ruling elite cannot ignore it anymore, tougher confrontation with Iran in the absence of a diplomatic solution will push oil prices to much higher levels, greatly hurting the fragile European economies and the weak recovery in the US.

Moreover, with Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium at 3.5 percent and 19.75 percent levels continuing to grow, the West’s anxiety over Iran’s military site at Parchin (southeast of Tehran) also growing, and the situation in Syria spiraling out of control, Iran does have some winning cards to play. No deal with Iran can be reached without a major concession by the US and its allies. If there is political will on both sides, the framework for a diplomatic solution and the road map to arrive at it are clear.

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