The first annual NPT Preparatory Committee in the 2015 round begins today. With a full work plan agreed in May 2010, delegates have a varied agenda, but it seems likely that Iran’s nuclear programme will form a shadow over discussions in Vienna.
Also this week, the second round of Iran’s parliamentary elections happens on Friday. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei received a significant boost in the last election, has used his stronger position to take greater control of negotiations and the public messaging associated, and has staked his reputation on progress in Baghdad. The chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, now explicitly represents the Supreme Leader (rather than the National Security Council). Another successful election for his allies would further strengthen his position, and give him the confidence to deal with his E3+3 negotiating partners in Baghdad on May 23rd.
Two days later there is another election that could influence the tone of the talks. François Hollande is set to replace the unpopular Nicolas Sarkozy as the new French President. And whilst few expect any dramatic change in foreign policy as a result of a change in party and personality at the Elysée Palace, the new President may well move closer to France’s other two key European allies in the talks – the United Kingdom and Germany, and possibly break French stiff opposition to compromise. Iran is not playing high in the election campaign, which is rather more focused on the state of the economy, so it is a little early to tell. Indeed, the newly-elected President and his officials may still have other priorities in the run-up to Baghdad.
There is little of direct relevance that can be achieved in Vienna on the Iranian file. Nevertheless, NPT talks are a highly important and relevant background context, with the opportunity for NPT members to demonstrate that this is not simply the persecution of an isolated state, but rather part of an attempt to strengthen the non-proliferation regime. For this to have credibility, the Nuclear Weapon States will need to demonstrate serious political intent behind their commitments made in the 2010 action plan, and active universal support given to the Finnish facilitator of this year’s conference on a WMD Free Zone in the Middle East. He’ll be addressing the Prep Com next week on May 8th, with further details. But that’s next week.
The views expressed here belong to those of the author.