But the first face-to-face discussions in 14 months between Iran and major world powers concerned about its nuclear program yielded little else but an airing of views, according to Iran’s chief negotiator.
The “only outcome," Saeed Jalili stressed, was agreement on the eight words that will be the framework for the next meeting: “Talks based on cooperation to find common ground.”
And yet within moments of the conclusion of the talks in Geneva, it was clear that Iran’s broad interpretation of the contents of the next round – sweeping up everything from Israel’s undeclared nuclear arsenal to “efforts” by unnamed countries to “monopolize” resources and power – was at odds with that of the P5+1 (the US, Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany).
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, the host of the talks, described the outcome in terms of Iran’s nuclear program – the top concern of several members of the P5+1, which believe that Iran’s energy plans mask a drive for a nuclear weapon.
“We recognize Iran’s rights [to nuclear power], but insist it fulfills its obligations,” Ms. Ashton said. In Istanbul, “we plan to discuss practical ideas and ways of cooperating toward the resolution of our full concerns about the nuclear issue.”
Standing pat on sanctions
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Tuesday that lifting the array of UN, American, EU and other sanctions against Iran would boost future talks, though no P5+1 diplomat has even hinted that would be possible.
“If you come to the negotiations by canceling all the nasty things and wrong decisions that you have adopted … lift resolutions, sanctions and some restrictions that you have created … then the talks will definitely be fruitful,” Mr. Ahmadinejad said in a speech in Arak, a city in central Iran.
Mr. Jalili made clear that Iran’s uranium enrichment would “absolutely not” be up for discussion in Istanbul. Four UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions have imposed sanctions and demanded that Iran stop the process – which is used to make reactor fuel, or if refined to much higher levels can be used in a weapon – until it proves its work is peaceful.
Instead, in a press conference after the meeting, Jalili stuck to longstanding talking points about the need to reshape global politics.
Jalili questioned the scale of other nuclear arsenals and said it was “disgraceful” that the listing of nuclear scientists for sanctions by the UNSC had, he claimed, led to the assassination of one scientist and the wounding of another in two Tehran bomb attacks last week. Beside Jalili at the podium was a portrait of Majid Shahriari, the dead scientist, with a strip of black cloth in the upper left corner.
“We didn’t get anywhere on substance,” one official of the P5+1 told the Associated Press. “It was an exchange of views.”
The AP also quoted a senior American official, who said: “Our expectations for these talks were low, and they were never exceeded.” Reuters quoted a US official saying the talks were “difficult and candid,” and that Iran suspending enrichment was still P5+1 policy.
Neither side mentioned a nuclear fuel swap deal backed by the US and once offered in October 2009. It was finally brokered by Brazil and Turkey with Iran last May. It was dismissed as inadequate then by the P5+1, given Iran’s continued rate of enrichment.
Jalili warned that Western focus on “fabricated issues” – he did not explicitly mention the concerns about Iran’s nuclear program – should not be allowed to “divert” attention from “real concerns.”
The secretary-general of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council – without naming the Americans or EU – criticized the dual-track policy now favored by the Obama administration of holding talks while also raising pressure on Iran through sanctions and other means.
Such talks under pressure “were not talks anymore,” Jalili said. “Dictators dictate, and talks befit civilized people.” Continued use of such a dual-track policy meant talks were “doomed to fail.” Likewise, Jalili added, “when some sides resort to assassination and terrorism, this tells me their logic is weak and lacking.”