After nuclear talks fail, Iran rails at 'enemies' – and leaves door open for new round

Iran responded to the failure of nuclear talks last weekend with dual-track rhetoric, saying that 'there is hope' but accusing the West of 'blocking progress.'
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (c.) waves to his supporters while visiting Rasht, 200 miles northwest of Tehran on Jan. 23. Ahmadinejad has called for a resumption of talks, telling a crowd of thousands in northern Iran on Sunday that 'there is hope that in the next sessions, good results would be achieved' if the six world powers were 'committed to law, justice, and respect.'

Iran is reacting to the collapse of nuclear talks in Istanbul with the rhetorical equivalent of Washington’s own dual-track policy on Iran: diplomacy and pressure.

On the diplomatic side, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has called for a resumption of talks, telling a crowd of thousands in northern Iran on Sunday that “there is hope that in the next sessions, good results would be achieved” if the six world powers were “committed to law, justice, and respect.”

Brushing aside the fact that two days of talks in Istanbul failed to get out of the starting blocks – stalled over two Iranian preconditions, and with no plans for future sessions – Mr. Ahmadinejad said that “in the upcoming meetings there will be good agreements made, provided the two parties remain committed to the spirit of the talks.”

And on the pressure side, that spirit might be tested by some of Ahmadinejad’s other language. To the crowds, he accused “uncultured Zionists [Israelis] and some people in America” for blocking progress and making sure “the [Iran] issues remain unresolved.”

Speaking later to veterans and martyrs’ families, Ahmadinejad railed against familiar “enemies”: the US and Western nations – the most powerful of them represented at the nuclear talks – and Israel.

“The Iranian nation will stand fast until oppression is rooted out and the flag of justice is raised in the world, keeping the enemy wishing forever that Iran take even one step back,” said Ahmadinejad, as quoted by the semiofficial Fars News Agency. “They [the enemy] committed numerous crimes and even violate the rules and restrictions that they themselves had set.”

Talks stuck on Iran's 'right to enrich'

Expectations were low for the talks in Istanbul between Iran and the so-called P5+1 – the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, the US, Russia, China, Britain and France, along with Germany – but few predicted failure to get beyond Iran’s preconditions that its “right to enrich” uranium be stated, and that sanctions be lifted.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, speaking for the P5+1, said she was “disappointed,” but said the “door remains open, the choice remains in Iran’s hands.”

In his lengthy press conference after the talks, Iran’s chief negotiator Saeed Jalili said his up-front insistence on the two points “are not preconditions, rather they are requirements [also translated as prerequisites] for talks and discussions.”

The UN Security Council requires Iran to stop enriching uranium – a process for making fuel for nuclear power plants, as well as at much higher levels for a bomb – until the Islamic Republic clarifies remaining questions about possible weapons-related designs. The Council has imposed four sets of sanctions on Iran.

Iranian media blamed West for breakdown

In Tehran, news media worked overtime to portray Iran as open and “ready” for all nuclear discussions and barely mentioned Iran’s deal-breaking preconditions. Politicians weighed in, accusing the West of “mistakes.”

“We thought that the Westerners would make up for their previous mistakes in the Istanbul negotiations,” said Kazzem Jalali, a member of the Iranian parliament’s security and foreign policy committee.

Fars News paraphrased Mr. Jalali as saying that Iran “was completely prepared to hold constructive and positive talks with the West,” then quoted his words: “Certain Western countries, specially the US officials, didn’t want the negotiations to reach a final result and … they continued rocking the boat in the Istanbul talks like the past.”

Ms. Ashton’s disappointment was a “mistake,” Jalali added, “since Iran has always announced its readiness for negotiations and today the ball is in the Westerners’ court.”

No sense of urgency on Iran's part

But what did Iran’s negotiators actually say in Istanbul?

Displaying no sense of crisis or urgency, chief negotiator Mr. Jalili – secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council – gave a press conference after the talks on a range of issues, including his belief that former British Prime Minister Tony Blair “should not only go to court in the UK” over lives lost in the Iraq war, but “should be tried in the international arena.”

Jalili complained that only six nations were speaking to Iran, when there were 130 members of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty; and he asked: “Who gave Israel nuclear arms?” Referring to bomb attacks against nuclear scientists in Tehran in the past year, Jalili said two were “terrorized” once their names appeared on UN sanctions lists, a result he called a “fiasco” for the Security Council.

“We have always stressed that talks can be useful, successful, and progressive only when they are based on a common logic,” Jalili said, using a term that came up again and again. “If you decide to use another instrument instead of common logic, this would result in dictation and not negotiation….”

Jalili was appointed to his post in October 2007 ­– after a stint at the foreign ministry in charge of European and American affairs – but was criticized by a senior conservative lawmaker for having “little experience.”

Reuters reported at the time that diplomats familiar with Jalili’s style said that “he expresses strongly held convictions and sticks firmly to his positions in discussions. One diplomat said he ‘specializes in monologue’ rather than debate.”

After substantive issues eluded the negotiators in Istanbul, one Western diplomat noted that Jalili “keeps repeating and repeating” his message.

Jalili's 'common logic'

Ashton met directly with Jalili for 90 minutes, during which the Iranian negotiator went over his position with her.

“As he put it, he said things in a big strategic approach, which meant we should remove the obstacles, and the measures, and then we could move forward,” Ashton said as she briefed journalists after the close of talks. She said she replied that “there are steps on this road, and you have to take the steps, and actually the [UN] resolutions set out the process, which at the end, if we are all successful, would remove [sanctions] anyway.”

A senior European diplomat suggested that Iran’s apparent belief that its preconditions would be accepted might have come from Iranian officials who “lived in a rather closed world.”

Jalili stressed in his public comments that “common logic” meant that “we should avoid subjects which give rise to animosity.” He also restated that Iran was “ready for cooperation,” and that it was “always open to these discussions.”

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