Iran and world powers will hold another round of negotiations next month, a sign that compromises offered by the Persian Gulf country over its disputed nuclear program are being taken seriously.
A new round of talks will take place on Nov. 7-8, the sides said in a statement issued after two days of meetings in Geneva. While European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said they wouldn’t be revealing details of the discussions, both underscored a changed atmosphere from previous negotiations.
“They were the most detailed discussions we’ve ever had by a long way,” Ashton told reporters in the Swiss city, which will also be the venue for next month’s talks. “There was much greater detail than ever before in answer to each other’s questions.”
The discussions in Geneva were the first since Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, and President Barack Obama spoke by phone last month in the highest-level contact between the countries since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Since his election in June, Rouhani’s overtures have raised expectations of progress in the negotiations aimed at curbing Iran’s nuclear program. Israel and the U.S. have left open the possibility of strikes against nuclear sites should talks fail and Iran moves to make a nuclear weapon.
Iran is prepared to take confidence-building measures by the second quarter of next year, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi told reporters yesterday, without specifying the steps. He said Iran, holder of the world’s fourth-largest proven oil reserves, would be willing to postpone recognition of its right to enrich uranium until a later stage in negotiations, under the plan proposed yesterday.
At the end of the talks today, Zarif was cautious. “This first step has been taken on a rather difficult road,” he told a media briefing. This round of talks was “an important contribution” toward finding a resolution, he said.
Before the sides convene again, they’ll send nuclear, scientific and sanctions experts to a separate meeting to work out details and timing of a possible plan, according to the joint statement.
Former nuclear negotiator Rouhani took office in August and named Zarif foreign minister, who then made overtures to the so-called P5+1 powers -- the U.S., U.K., France, Germany, Russia and China. Zarif met with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry at the United Nations in New York last month, while Rouhani has reached out to the West as part of his campaign pledge to ease Iran’s international isolation.
Sanctions imposed over the nuclear program have slashed Iran’s crude oil exports -- the Persian Gulf state’s main source of revenue -- in half since June 2012, wreaked havoc on its currency and fueled inflation.
A timeline for compromises by Iran and reciprocal steps by the six world powers were the focus of today’s talks.
While Iran won’t immediately ratify the International Atomic Energy Agency’s so-called “Additional Protocol,” a binding agreement that allows faster and wider inspections, it will assent to more monitoring while initial steps are being taken, Araghchi said. He said Iran would be willing to agree to wider access to disputed sites and snap inspections, among other things, as long as its right to enrich uranium is recognized at the end of the negotiating process.
Araghchi has reiterated Iran is ready to negotiate the form, size and level of its enrichment, including the 20 percent material which could quickly be purified to weapons grade.
Iran’s 20-percent uranium stockpile has not increased in the last six months, according to IAEA monitors who inspect the material. The country has sufficient quantities to run its Tehran Research Reactor, used to make cancer-fighting medical isotopes, and has been converting the material into fuel plates, the IAEA says.
The top U.S. diplomat at this round of talks, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, told Congress on Oct. 3 that additional sanctions shouldn’t be considered until after the Geneva round of talks. Spurning Iran’s offer to talk would be “diplomatic malpractice,” Kerry said the same day in Tokyo.
The House of Representatives passed a measure July 31 for new sanctions by a 400-20 vote. The Senate agreed to hold back on a companion bill, though banking committee chairman Sen. Tim Johnson, a South Dakota Democrat, said he can’t wait much beyond the end of the month, barring major concessions from Iran.
Dozens of international sanctions have cut Iranian banks off from world financial markets and undermined oil exports. UN powers at a February meeting in Almaty offered relief from sanctions on gold and petrochemicals trade in exchange for Iranian compromises.
While sanctions have hampered Iran’s economy, they haven’t stopped its uranium enrichment, IAEA data show. The country, with the world’s No. 4 proven oil reserves, would have enough material to make 15 nuclear weapons if it chooses to enrich further.