The E3+3 (P5+1: United States, United Kingdom, France, China, Russia, and Germany) will meet with Iran on Tuesday for official talks in Almaty, Kazakhstan, the first formal meeting in eight months. These talks follow last week’s update report from the IAEA on Iran’s nuclear program, indicating that a new type of centrifuge was installed at Iran’s main uranium enrichment plant, Natanz, that could speed up the enrichment process, and increase the accumulation of 20 per cent low-enriched uranium. Iran this weekend also announced it has designated 16 sites for new indigenous nuclear power plants and had discovered ‘substantial new uranium deposits’. However, the IAEA report also indicated that whilst its production capacity has clearly been improving, Iran has been capping the level of uranium it is enriching and hundreds of centrifuges recently installed in the newest uranium enrichment plant in Qom have not begun operating.
The timing of all these actions could indicate a
negotiation tactic on Iran’s behalf in advance of the meeting with the E3+3 this week.
Both sides have been approaching Tuesday’s meeting with public calls to their opposing sides for genuine will to make progress on these negotiations. However, the prospects for any breakthrough this week are staked heavily against the negotiators.
There seems to be little movement towards the middle in these negotiations. Looking for full recognition of their nuclear rights and relief from sanctions in return for concrete and verifiable assurances of peaceful nuclear activities, the Iranian Foreign Ministry has said that any new offer from the E3+3 should match Iran’s comprehensive package of proposals from July 2012. But the P5+1 will most likely reiterate their demands: Iran to halt all enrichment up to 20 per cent enriched uranium, shut the Fordow facility, and begin shipping its 20 percent uranium stockpile out of the country.
With looming Presidential elections in June and the Supreme Leader maintaining a tough stance towards the United States, the E3+3 may be calculating that now is not the time to be making ‘reasonable’ concessions that the Iranians may feel obliged to turn down, and choose instead to offer them when a new President is installed.
Earlier this month at the Munich Security Conference, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden announced that the United States was ready for one on one talks with Iran and Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akba Salehi appeared to accept the invitation. A week later, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei voiced his strong personal skepticism that such talks would produce anything and seemed to rebuke those (implying his own Foreign Minsiter) who held out hope. He was most likely implying the United States must show they are serious about wanting to reduce the trust deficit and any negotiations must be sincere and on equal footing. The E3+3 structure may have become somewhat unwieldy, so these more private and on-going bilaterals between the United States and Iran may be just the sort of solution to unlocking the process log-jam at this stage. With a natural inclination in the White House to play hardball with a state challenging its leadership, and Congress breathing its down its neck,
the Iranians will not be facing an easy negotiating partner, though. On the other hand, it ought to be clear that U.S. coercive diplomacy has not so far been successful.
This begs the question as to whether or not the United States and the rest of the E3+3 are the right countries to be addressing this problem in the longer run. Countries in the region, like the Gulf states, may be in a better position to work with Iran on a level playing field, to address regional proliferation concerns and build up a dialogue on strengthening incentives to remain non-nuclear weapon states. BASIC is hosting a conference on nuclear non-proliferation in the Gulf on March 25-26th in Istanbul as a follow up to our conference on this same issue in Doha in 2012. Check our events page in the coming month for more details.
These are the personal views of the authors.