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Nuclear talks resume: Iran looking for respect and reciprocity

The third round of nuclear talks begins tomorrow in Moscow between Iran and the P5+1 group of the US, Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany.

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A US official told ICG that "the burden of proof is on the Iranians. They are the ones running an illicit nuclear program. We will engage in a step-by-step process, but our actions are not necessarily going to be equivalent to theirs." P5+1 diplomats frequently cite increasingly painful sanctions – with further measures against Iran's central bank, and a European oil embargo due at the end of this month – as the reason Iran is at the table. Iran denies that linkage.

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"History shows that pushing Iran into a corner will backfire," says Kayhan Barzegar, director of the Institute for Middle East Strategic Studies in Tehran. The strategically important and widely supported nature of Iran's nuclear program means Iran can "easily resist against increased pressures."

"A win-win solution is inevitable. The other option is a lose-lose situation ... there is no [acceptable] win-lose [result] in this story," says Mr.  Barzegar.

Iran says it takes the P5+1 strategy that hardened considerably between the Istanbul and Baghdad talks as a red flag about Western seriousness to make a deal.

Barzegar says this hardening has stirred up “distrust among Iranian decisionmakers” and "strengthen[ed] the hard-line view that Iran is only wasting its time [with talks] and that the main goal of the West is to bring the [nuclear] program to a complete halt." 

Indeed, Iran's parliament speaker Ali Larijani said last week that the negotiating team "has no right to show leniency," and that Iran would determine its own enrichment levels – an indirect reference to 20 percent, according to Mehr News Agency.

Legislators weigh in

Parliament expected negotiators in Moscow to "consolidate what the Iranian nation has gained after years," said Mr. Larijani.

Senators in Washington likewise sought to shape the talks, with nearly half sending a letter to President Obama on Friday demanding an "absolute minimum" of immediate concessions by Iran in Moscow – halting 20 percent enrichment, and closing Fordow – if talks were to continue.

The 44 senators asked Mr. Obama not to ease sanctions, which needed to be "unremitting and crippling," and to boost pressure on Iran by "making clear that a credible military option exists."

"The idea of what we should be getting, and what we should be giving, on both sides, is completely at odds," says Eskandar Sadeghi-Boroujerdi, a doctoral candidate at Oxford and lead writer of a recent Oxford Research Group study on breaking the nuclear deadlock.

Increasing sanctions may have helped bring Iran to the table, but they can also become a trap, he says.

"Once you get into this frame of mind, where you have to have sanctions and they keep piling up, it's very difficult to reverse it," says Mr. Sadeghi-Boroujerdi.

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