nuclear talks gaining
traction By M K Bhadrakumar
When Iran proposed and the P5+1 accepted
at the Istanbul meet last month that their next
round of talks could be scheduled for May 23 in
Baghdad, Western observers - not even the vigilant
Israelis, ironically - didn't notice the
significance of the date.
May 23 is a
memorable day in the folklore of the Iranian
revolution. That was the day the tide of the war
with Saddam Hussein's Iraq turned exactly 30 years
ago in 1982 when Iran's
"liberated" the port city of Khorramshahr and
registered their first victory on the battlefield.
Khorramshahr is etched deep in the Iranian
people's psyche. Therefore, when a prominent
Iranian legislator pointed this out during an open
session of the Iranian parliament on Sunday, he
was invoking the archetypal symbol of resistance,
honor and victory.
In the present-day
context, it serves a useful purpose. The regime is
assuring the domestic audience that Iran is
emerging "victorious" in resistance to the Western
pressure on its nuclear program.
the Iranian regime is reassuring the public that
Iran's vital interests will be robustly defended
in any nuclear deal with the West. In a spate of
statements through Sunday by key figures in the
political establishment, Tehran insisted that its
willingness to negotiate and compromise by no
means suggested that its stance had weakened.
In an extraordinary press conference in
Tehran, the influential chairman of the
parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy
Commission, Alae'ddin Broujerdi, went to great
lengths to stress this while at the same time
signaling to the West that the regime was unified
as the talks enter a constructive phase. Among the
key points he made were:
An understanding can be reached with P5+1
("Iran Six" comprising the US, Britain, China,
Russia and France plus Germany). "The parliament,
government and the Supreme National Security
Council are committed to the country's national
interests, while they also believe in reaching an
understanding with the group [P5+1].
P5+1 is under compulsion to reach an
understanding with Iran, especially "given the
recent developments in France and the
[approaching] presidential election in the United
States" - although, Israel's preponderant
influence over the White House continues to pose a
The Baghdad talks "could serve as a beginning
to an end".
Tehran hopes that the P5+1 will be pragmatic,
"given the ground realities and the fact that Iran
has mastered this [nuclear] science and owns this
A final understanding is possible if the other
side appreciates Iran's "goodwill".
Despite renewed rhetoric, the possibility of a
US or Israeli military strike has "faded away and
is more used in political discourse and as part of
It is a message of
cautious optimism regarding the Baghdad talks.
Other key figures in the regime have also spoken
on similar lines, notably, the advisor to Supreme
Leader Ali Khamenei on foreign affairs, Ali Akbar
Velayati, who was Iran's foreign minister for
nearly a decade (during the presidency of Ali
"There is hope for the
Baghdad talks" if the West's intentions are
sincere and they abide by international law and do
not try to dictate solutions, said Velayati.
Essentially, he was calling on the US to be
Iran's Foreign Minister Ali
Akbar Salehi conveyed the same sentiment, saying
that the P5+1 would adopt a "positive and
constructive approach" at the talks so that
optimal use could be made of the opportunity.
Salehi said this during a phone conversation with
his German counterpart Guido Westerwelle on
Saturday even as Chancellor Angela Merkel arrived
at Camp David in the US for the Group of Eight
(G-8) summit meeting
Westerwelle appear to have discussed the agenda of
the Baghdad talks and they "expressed the hope
that the talks would result in positive
achievements and lead to a step forward in the
settlement of the Iran-West nuclear impasse".
Obama later held a bilateral meeting with Merkel.
Approach based on reciprocity Meanwhile, a sudden visit by the director
general of the International Atomic Energy Agency
(IAEA) Yukiya Amano to Tehran on Sunday will
complicate the dynamics of the negotiations in
Baghdad - even raising the hopes of a deal on
closer cooperation between the IAEA and Iran. If a
deal is clinched, Tehran may accede to the request
by the IAEA inspectors to visit its military
installations at Parchin.
accompanied by IAEA chief inspector Hermann
Nackaerts and deputy director general Rafael
Grossi, which makes it a "working visit" with a
dense agenda. Amano would be expected to wrap up
the three rounds of talks held this year between
Iranian negotiators and the IAEA (in January and
February in Tehran and in May in Vienna) and to
formalize the common decisions in a document.
Tehran's calculation would be to leverage a deal
with the IAEA on the scope and principles of
cooperation at the Baghdad talks.
another senior advisor to the Supreme Leader,
Gholam Ali Haddad Adel (who was a former speaker
of the Majlis, parliament ) put it recently, "Our
[Iran's] minimum expectation is the annulment of
the sanctions." Media reports quoted senior US
administration officials as saying that Washington
was prepared to offer an "incentives package" to
Iran, which could include easing restrictions on
things like airplane parts and technical
assistance to Iran's energy industry, but short of
scrapping the sweeping sanctions on Iran's oil
exports that are to go into effect in July.
European officials hinted that the EU could
suspend a ban on insuring oil tankers carrying
Tehran knows circumstances
are working in its favor. The change of leadership
in Paris bodes well for Tehran insofar as even at
the very least, newly elected President Francois
Hollande lacks the preachiness or the zeal shown
by his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy to punish Iran
and drive it to a corner. (Michel Rocard, former
French prime minister in the socialist government
of Francois Mitterrand visited Tehran last week.)
Second, the political mood in Europe as a
whole has dramatically changed in the weeks since
the Istanbul meet on April 14. No European capital
is threatening Tehran anymore - especially London
- and the European summit due this week in
Brussels is totally inundated by the angst over
how to shift the terms of the eurozone crisis
debate. Without doubt, oil imports from Iran
against outstanding payments due from Tehran are
of more pressing interest to countries such as
Italy today than ever before.
President Barack Obama, too, the stakes are high.
A breakdown of the Baghdad talks is highly
disagreeable since there is no viable Plan B. The
imperative need is to keep oil prices under
control in a crucial election year in the US. The
easing of tensions with Iran has already helped.
Simply put, low oil prices would help the
economic recovery in the US while skyrocketing
prices would upset the US consumer and might
trigger negative political consequences at the
keenly fought election in November. On the other
hand, a breakthrough at the Baghdad talks helps
Obama ward off the criticism by the pro-Israel
lobby regarding his decision to engage Iran in
From this perspective, the
Camp David Declaration adopted by the G-8 summit
on Saturday will be viewed with satisfaction in
Tehran. Interestingly, the spate of Iranian
statements voicing hope and optimism followed the
release of the G-8 declaration. The "operative
part" of the G-8 declaration says:
We [the G-8] call on Iran to seize
the opportunity that began in Istanbul, and
sustain this opening in Baghdad by engaging in
detailed discussions about near-term, concrete
steps that can, through a step-by-step approach
based on reciprocity, lead towards a
comprehensive negotiated solution which restores
international confidence that Iran's nuclear
program is exclusively peaceful.
key portion relates to the need for Iran to take
"near-term, concrete steps" within the ambit of a
"step-by-step approach based on reciprocity".
This is based on the original Russian
formula, namely, that Iran should be
"incentivized" to move forward, which takes the
form of the West steadily, incrementally
dismantling the sanctions regime, and the final
goal being a "comprehensive negotiated solution"
that is verifiable by the IAEA.
the Camp David Declaration refrains from making
any demands on Iran's nuclear program as such. It
also affirms that the negotiations will be held
within the framework of the nuclear
The G-8 took
into account the agenda for the meeting in
Baghdad, which has ben drawn up by Ali Bagheri,
Iran's ace negotiator, and Helga Schmid, deputy to
the EU foreign policy chief, in under-the-radar
confidential discussions held at Geneva through
last week - which also forms the basis of the
optimism in Tehran that tangible results can be
expected at Wednesday's meeting.
Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar was a
career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service. His
assignments included the Soviet Union, South
Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, Afghanistan, Pakistan,
Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Turkey.
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