Secretary of State John Kerry said today that the U.S. and its partners are still waiting for Iran to reply to a proposal that the Persian Gulf state curtail nuclear activities in exchange for some relief from sanctions.
Responding to reports that Iran seeks a “new approach” in talks, Kerry said the world powers -- the U.S., the U.K., France, Germany, China and Russia -- put a proposal on the table in February. “We’re waiting” for a response, and to see a “difference in their approach” under Iran’s new government, he said.
Kerry’s comments, which follow weekend remarks by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, reflect the jockeying under way in advance of a Geneva meeting scheduled for Oct. 15-16. The powers are seeking measures, such as increased inspections and curtailing uranium enrichment, to ensure Iran doesn’t build nuclear weapons.
“The previous offer by the P5+1 is history and they should come to the negotiating table with a new approach,” Zarif said, referring to the six powers involved in nuclear talks, according to official Iranian Students News Agency.
Alireza Nader, a senior international policy analyst in the Washington office of the Rand Corp., said Zarif is signaling Iran’s desire to have negotiations jump ahead to discussing an “endgame” for resolving the nuclear issues rather than focusing on the initial incremental steps now on the bargaining table. The burden for advancing such discussion is on Iran, he said.
“This is what, I think, the U.S. is potentially interested in -- a big-for-big approach, in which both countries lay out a road map and communicate to each other what their ultimate goals are regarding the nuclear program,” he said in a phone interview.
Iran’s leaders don’t want to be seen as showing weakness or buckling under the weight of economic sanctions, Nader said. “And also they don’t like the U.S. talking about a military option regarding Iran,” he said, referring to threats of force if diplomacy fails.
Iran’s leadership wants to see whether the world powers envision an outcome they would consider acceptable, particularly whether the nation will be permitted to maintain some level of uranium enrichment as a “right,” said Trita Parsi, president of the National Iranian American Council.
“If there is agreement on that, then I think the Iranians will be very flexible,” he said in a phone interview. “If there is no clear agreement on that, then I think the two sides are stuck where they were before, and then it is going to be very difficult to get some movement.”
Among the issues in dispute, in addition to Iran’s uranium enrichment operations, are construction of a plutonium-producing reactor and unresolved questions about past activities related to making a nuclear weapons.
Since he was inaugurated two months ago, Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, 64, has reached out to the U.S. and the world, expressing a desire to end Iran’s isolation and see a lifting of the most stringent financial and oil sanctions, which have crippled Iran’s economy.
On the last day of his trip to New York last month, Rouhani spoke with President Barack Obama by phone, the highest-level interaction between the two governments since the 1979 revolution and rupture in ties.
On Sept. 26 at the UN, Foreign Minister Zarif agreed with world powers to accelerate negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program, talks that will test the country’s readiness to make concessions and allay concerns it’s seeking the capability to produce nuclear weapons.
Kerry said today that the U.S. is “encouraged by the statements that were made in New York, and we’re encouraged by the outreach” by Iran. Even so, “it’s not words that will make the difference; it’s actions.”
Since U.S. and EU oil sanctions went into effect in July 2012, Iran’s oil exports have dropped by half and inflation almost doubled in two years, reaching 40 percent last month. The majority of Iran’s government revenue comes from crude oil sales.
Iran was the second-biggest crude producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries as recently as June 2012, before U.S. and EU oil sanctions took effect, and was in sixth place last month, according to a Bloomberg survey of oil companies, producers and analysts.