Iran Tempers Expectations on Nuclear Pact Ahead of Geneva Talks

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif
Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote on his Facebook page, “I will present Iran’s proposal in the opening session and then my colleagues will carry on the talks.” Photographer: John Moore/Getty Images

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, the highest-ranking official taking part in nuclear negotiations starting tomorrow in Geneva, said more meetings will probably be necessary before progress is likely toward ending the decade-long standoff.

Diplomats from China, France, Germany, Russia, the U.K. and U.S., the so-called P5+1, will meet their Iranian counterparts for two days of talks in the Swiss city. It’s the first round of negotiations over the Persian Gulf country’s disputed nuclear program since Hassan Rouhani was elected president.

“I will present Iran’s proposal in the opening session and then my colleagues will carry on the talks,” Zarif wrote on his Facebook page. “In order to decide about the details and starting procedure, we will probably need another meeting at the level of foreign ministries.”

Years of talks between Iran and world powers haven’t advanced beyond the level of lower ranking under-secretaries and political officers. While Zarif met other foreign ministers in a meeting on the sidelines of last month’s United Nations General Assembly, it’s the first time an Iranian foreign minister will attend a full round of talks. Previous sessions in Geneva, Moscow, Baghdad, Istanbul and Almaty, Kazakhstan have failed to produce an accord.

Whether Iran has a right to enrich the uranium-235 isotope, used to generate atomic power and make nuclear bombs, is at the heart of the dispute. The country, with enough enriched uranium to make 15 atomic weapons if it chooses, has called United Nations sanctions against the country illegal, citing the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty guarantees to nuclear technology.

‘Cracking Open’

Iran’s interpretation of the treaty has been rejected by the UN Security Council, which has demanded enrichment be suspended while the Persian Gulf country clears up allegations of weapons work and implements more transparency.

“Iran will have bilateral meetings with members of the P5+1, including the U.S., on the sidelines,” Iran’s Shargh newspaper cited Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi as saying before he left for the talks. The U.S. and Iran haven’t conducted direct discussions in previous meetings.

The most senior U.S. official attending the Geneva round will be Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman. Secretary of State John Kerry told the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee that the U.S. will exercise caution at the talks.

“Right now, the window for diplomacy is cracking open, but I want you to know that our eyes are open, too,” said Kerry in remarks via satellite from London. “No deal is better than a bad deal.’

Right to Enrich

As negotiators in Geneva prepare for a two-day session, a public argument in Iran over Rouhani’s conciliatory tone during his trip to the U.S. last month, with newspapers close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei weighing in against a thaw, suggests that Rouhani may have limited room to make concessions.

Iran will put forward a three-step proposal at the talks, according to the Iranian Students News Agency. As part of the plan, it will seek a commitment at the end of the talks from the so-called P5+1 to recognize the country’s right to enrich.

‘‘We will negotiate about the form, size and level of enrichment, but transporting the enriched stockpile out of the country is one of our red lines,” Araghchi said yesterday on state TV.

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