Iran nuclear talks: What's on the table, what's at stake
Iran nuclear talks began in Istanbul today with topics that could include a revamped version of a nuclear fuel swap deal and ongoing sanctions.
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On Friday, with the prospect of further sanctions looming against Iran and patience wearing thin on both sides, the two days of talks commenced behind closed doors in an ornate Ottoman-era palace along the Bosphorus. Iran has had difficult relations with the West – and especially arch-foes Britain, the US, and Israel – since the 1979 Islamic revolution swept away a brutal pro-Western monarchy.Skip to next paragraph
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“We will absolutely not allow the talks to go into the issue of our basic rights like the issue of suspending enrichment,” Abolfazl Zohrevand, an aide to Mr. Jalili, told reporters during a break for prayers. “We will focus on cooperation… The talks have been positive because both sides have come to take positive steps.”
What might be on the table
But other aspects of Iran’s nuclear program may well enter the discussion. The negotiators – with undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns representing the US – are likely to be grappling with several key topics, such as a revamped version of a nuclear fuel swap deal, in which Iran would agree to export much of its homemade enriched uranium in exchange for nuclear fuel rods it needs for a small reactor in Tehran that makes medical isotopes.
Billed as a confidence-building measure in October 2009 the proposal went nowhere. A similar version mediated by Turkey and Brazil was agreed with Iran in May 2010, but rejected by Western nations because it left enough nuclear material in Iran to serve as a building block for a weapon. News reports suggest both sides may have prepared updated proposals.
Iranian analysts suggest a “win-win” solution, in which the US and other world powers accept uranium enrichment in Iran – a process that has already been underway for years in the Islamic Republic – in exchange for much more intrusive inspections and guarantees.
Western diplomats note privately that Iran is not likely to give up enrichment wholesale under any circumstance, so agreeing on restrictions is perhaps the best they can hope for.
And accepting enrichment might not yield an immediate breakthrough, though it would be a “good” and “substantial” shift by the P5+1, says Mohtasham, who knows several of the key Iranian officials.
“Whatever the West says, Iranians by nature and because of their experience would always doubt this,” says Mohtasham. “They say, ‘Look, if they made such a proposal, there must be … some sort of evil behind it, so we have to find out what the evil is.’”
“It does take time,” adds Mohtasham. “The West should look at this as a process, rather than just accepting or rejecting immediately. That is the main problem with all diplomatic proposals and negotiations with Iran, [the West] just want things to happen quickly.”