On Wednesday, Catherine Ashton, will host representatives from the E3+3 (P5+1: US, UK, China, Russia, France, and Germany) in Brussels to discuss continued efforts to find a diplomatic solution to discourage Iran from augmenting its nuclear program. Ashton, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, has facilitated meetings between the E3+3 and Iran since 2009, which have so far yielded limited results.
This meeting marks the beginning of a new round of talks between the E3+3 and Iran, the first since President Obama’s re-election, set to commence in December. It also follows Friday’s release of a quarterly IAEA report on Iran’s safeguards. The IAEA report indicated that Iran has increased the number of centrifuges at its Natanz fuel enrichment plant, setting off red flags amongst many Western media outlets suggesting that Iran has upped it pursuit of the bomb. However, there is no indication of how well these centrifuges are working and the stockpile of separated 20% U235 Uranium remains lower than it has been in the recent past (as the Iranians had converted much of the stockpile into fuel that can now only be used in reactors). In the underground and hardened Fordow facility, new centrifuges were recently installed but they have not yet been turned on. There remain questions, however, over Iran’s activities at the Parchin military complex, where satellite images have triggered accusations that activity at this site is associated with nuclear weapons development. Iran has continuously denied this, but also has continuously denied the IAEA full access to the site for verification.
It is important for both sides to come to the table in December with a negotiating strategy with greater flexibility than in the past. There have been a number of proposals floated in public and in private suggesting significant win-win and step-by-step moves that both sides could contemplate to protect their interests whilst walking away from confrontation, but many of these have not yet been attempted. There remain today significant fears that Iranian stockpiling of enriched uranium, which the IAEA report suggests has increased by 43kg over the past three months, will reach the Israeli red-line by mid-2013, increasing the threat of a preventive attack. The E3+3 is likely to seek agreement from Iran to convert more of that stockpiled uranium to fuel plates. Iran will be seeking relief from sanctions. Those close to the negotiations have been talking about increasing the offers and demands in a ‘more-for-more’ approach to enable both sides to achieve results that have greater impact, but talks will need to progress at a faster rate than they have done up to now to achieve such a result.
These are the views of the author.