Iran proposed tighter monitoring of its nuclear program within a six-month period to verify it’s not pursuing atomic weapons during the first talks with world powers since it pledged to end a decade-old standoff.
Iran unveiled its offer during negotiations today at Geneva’s Palais des Nations with world powers including China, Russia, France, Germany, the U.K and U.S. It’s the first round of nuclear negotiations since Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, and U.S. President Barack Obama spoke by phone last month, marking the highest level contact between the two countries since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
In outlining Iran’s proposal, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi told reporters the nation is ready to offer “confidence building measures,” without giving details. Those concessions would be subject to verification by a joint monitoring committee made up of officials from Iran and the international community. Araghchi said Iran’s position was listened to “in a serious, constructive atmosphere.”
Since being elected to the presidency in June, Rouhani’s overtures have raised expectations of progress in negotiations. Israel and the U.S. have left open the possibility of strikes against nuclear sites should the talks fail and Iran seeks to develop nuclear weapons. The dispute has been driven by Iran’s insistence on a right to enrich uranium as part of a program they say is solely for civilian purposes.
World powers said this morning they were waiting with “cautious optimism” to hear the Iranian proposals. Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, the highest ranking official at the meeting, gave a one-hour slide show entitled “Ending an Unnecessary Crisis and Opening New Horizons,” according to Araghchi.
“It was very useful,” European Union spokesman Michael Mann said of Zarif’s presentation, during a break in talks. “What matters is the end result.”
Iran is expected to provide more details about specific confidence-building measures later today, Mann said. Two U.S. sanctions specialists are to join this afternoon’s consultations, according an Iranian diplomat who requested anonymity because the talks are private.
The United Nations Security Council has demanded Iran suspend all uranium enrichment, stop construction of an additional plutonium-producing reactor and allow UN monitors wider access to people and places in Iran associated with a suspected military program. Iran said ahead of the Geneva talks that it’s ready to negotiate the form, size and level of its uranium enrichment.
“Any real confidence-building measures at this point” must include limits on Iran’s uranium enrichment and its stockpile of medium-enriched uranium, Laicie Heeley, director of Middle East and defense policy at the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation in Washington, said in an interview today. Enriched uranium can be further processed to bomb-grade material. Iran says it needs 20 percent enriched uranium to treat cancer patients.
Verification measures might include granting UN inspectors more access to Iran’s nuclear facilities, she said. “Such a deal is politically feasible, but the sides will have to move quickly. If we emerge with less than what I’ve outlined, it won’t be long before hardliners in the U.S. begin to call for tougher action,” she said.
In February at an earlier round of talks in Almaty, Kazakhstan, the so-called P5+1 powers -- the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany -- offered to lift curbs on petrochemicals and gold trade, as well as civilian aviation parts, in exchange for a freeze of Iran’s enrichment to 20 percent purity.
Iran is willing to wait until negotiations are complete for the recognition of its right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes, Araghchi said. Iran’s demand for acceptance of its right to enrich uranium on its own soil, and a relaxation of the international sanctions that have squeezed Iran’s economy, are the central issues in the talks.
Iran is subject to dozens of U.S. and European sanctions on energy, trade, banking, ports, shipping, precious metals trade and other forms of commerce. The U.S. House of Representatives voted in July for tighter sanctions on Iran that haven’t yet become law. Ten leading senators said in a letter to Obama that Congress is ready to introduce new curbs if Iran’s “rhetorical assurances of the last two weeks” aren’t followed by action. They said continued enrichment is “not a prerequisite for a peaceful nuclear energy program.”
Israel, the closest U.S. ally in the Middle East, says Iran’s nuclear program should be dismantled. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told parliament yesterday that it would be a “historic mistake” to ease sanctions in Iran before they achieve their aim.
The U.S. will keep up the economic pressure, only offering relief in proportion to concessions from Iran, said an Obama administration official at the Geneva talks who asked not to be identified.
Inside Iran, which holds the world’s fourth-largest proven oil reserves, there are signs of division over Rouhani’s diplomacy. Newspapers close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei have opposed a prospective thaw with the West, suggesting Rouhani may have limited room to make concessions.
Iran’s first negotiations with Western nations since Rouhani took office in August have analysts forecasting a drop in Brent crude to below $100 a barrel should the talks lead to easing sanctions on the Middle Eastern nation’s oil exports. The benchmark grade used to price more than half the world’s oil would decline by $12 a barrel, according to the mean of 19 trader and analyst estimates compiled by Bloomberg News yesterday.