by Zafar Bangash (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 42, No. 9, Dhu al-Hijjah, 1434)
Representatives from the Islamic Republic of Iran and the P5+1 group of countries are to resume discussions in Geneva on November 7. The follow up meeting within three weeks of the first round is seen as a good sign.
Representatives of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the P5+1 member states are to meet again in Geneva on November 7 and 8. This was announced following two days of talks last month that concluded on October 16. While few details of what the talks entailed have been revealed, both sides described them as “substantive” and “serious.” Scheduling the second round of talks so soon after the first round is seen as a good sign. Further, it was agreed that technical experts from both sides as well as American sanctions experts would meet in the meantime to discuss the technical aspects of the issue.
In the opening session on October 15, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif himself made the presentation despite a severe backache. He gave a one-hour PowerPoint presentation in which he outlined the roadmap for ending the impasse over Iran’s peaceful nuclear program and how it ought to proceed. He then retired to his hotel room to recuperate while his deputy, Abbas Araghchi took over. During the two days that incidentally coincided with the celebration of Eid al-Adha, Dr. Zarif moved about in a wheelchair, in visible pain but stoically carrying out his responsibilities. His PowerPoint presentation was titled, “Closing an Unnecessary Crisis: Opening New Horizons.” Diplomats from both sides stressed that the plan involved a timetable that included initial confidence-building steps. These are to be implemented in the first six months.
Tehran is seeking a comprehensive and permanent settlement, under which it could pursue its peaceful nuclear program without being subjected to illegal punitive sanctions. As part of the plan, Iran is looking for serious relief from sanctions, not merely on peripheral issues such as aircraft spare parts. Iran has made clear that it wants the sanctions on its banking transactions and oil sales lifted as part of the initial agreement. In return, Iran has signaled that it will not only limit uranium enrichment but may also be willing to accept snap inspections of its nuclear facilities. These, however, will come at the end of the process as part of a comprehensive agreement.
Both American and other Western officials described Iran’s proposals as “serious” and “substantive” and have indicated they will study them carefully and respond after consultations with their respective capitals. On October 17, there were reports that the US may release some of Iran’s frozen assets as part of confidence-building steps. The figure of $12 billion has been mentioned in media reports although no official statements have been made. President Barack Obama has the authority to release these funds without going to Congress. Even the Congress-imposed sanctions can be waived for a period of 120 days if Obama were to put in writing that these would advance US “security interests.”
From reports in the media based on speculation and information gleaned from various delegates at the Geneva conference, the following points can be summarized. Tehran is looking for reciprocal confidence building measures with specific timelines and an endgame. In other words, Iran will not get into another shell game like the one in 2003 when it suspended uranium enrichment and accepted the Additional Protocols but got nothing in return for two years. Eventually, it was forced to end the arrangement.
Foreign Minister Zarif proposed six-month time frames with specific goals to be achieved in each. For its part, Iran would be willing to undertake the following steps in the first six months:
In return, Iran is looking for recognition of its right to enrich uranium and immediate easing of some sanctions. Some American and European officials have talked in terms of easing restrictions on sale of medicines to Iran that are technically outside the sanctions regime anyway but because of restrictions on banking transactions, cannot be pro-cessed. This would be a very insignificant step and would fall short of what had previously been offered: that Iran could trade in gold and other metals.
Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman, the chief US negotiator at the talks, told Christiane Amanpour of CNN that Foreign Minister Zarif and his delegation had come with a detailed plan and the discussions were substantive. Sherman also said there had to be a framework for negotiations and a timeline. Iran has also been insisting on one and has clearly sought what the endgame would look like. Obviously, each side has its own objectives but Iran has said that in return for verifiable inspections of its nuclear facilities, there has to be complete lifting of all sanctions.
Iran has asked that the US delegation include financial experts to go into details of how the sanctions on Iran would be eased and ultimately dismantled. Participating in the first round of Geneva talks was Adam Szubin, head of the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, the body that implements US sanctions laws. Sherman told CNN, “The purpose of having our sanctions team here with us is because… Iran wants to get sanctions relief. But they also have to understand what the range of our sanctions are, what they require, how they work, what it takes to implement sanctions relief, what sanctions we believe need to stay in place.”
It will be interesting to see what kind of incentive package the US will bring to the table in Geneva on November 6. Iran has put forward serious and meaningful proposals on the table, something admitted by the P5+1 representatives. The West is demanding additional steps that Iran must take including full monitoring of the underground enrichment plant at Fordow (to be turned into a research center), and negotiations on limiting the scale of production at the Natanz enrichment plant. Further, they want Iran to ratify the Additional Protocols of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, which allows unannounced inspections of nuclear sites.
Iran has indicated that it would be prepared to consider all these steps as part of an end process but it would like to see tangible steps from the West in terms of sanctions relief in the interim. Confidence-building measures are not a one-way street; the onus is now on the West, especially the US, to show its goodwill if it is serious about ending this completely artificial crisis.
As British political commentator, Peter Oborne, and Irish Physicist, David Morrison, have shown in their new book, A Dangerous Delusion: Why the West Is Wrong About Nuclear Iran, there is no truth to Western allegations about Iran’s nuclear program. They say Iran’s nuclear file has been deliberately politicized, otherwise the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT), to which Iran is a signatory, contains all the clauses of dealing with the issue.
The NPT also talks about limiting and ultimately eliminating all nuclear weapons stockpiles. The major nuclear powers — the US, Russia, Britain, France and China — have taken few steps to fulfill their obligations. Breathing fire about Iran’s peaceful nuclear program is completely hypocritical when the existing nuclear powers and the Zionist regime continue to thumb their noses at the global community.
Meanwhile, a group of US scientists condemned the government for planning to spend $60 billion over the next 25 years to modernize its nuclear arsenal. The Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit science advocacy group, released a statement on October 17 calling the nuclear modernization plan misguided as it violated international agreements to reduce the number of nuclear weapons, according to Reuters.
The 81-page report by the group said the $60 billion slated for upgrading US nuclear warheads is a fraction of what Washington plans to spend on its nuclear arsenal in the coming decades. This would be on top of the billions earmarked for new nuclear manufacturing facilities and billions more for delivery systems like submarines. Such massive spending on nuclear weapons brings into question the claim by Obama that he is committed to a world without nuclear weapons and plans to start negotiations with Russia over the “New START” treaty. As part of the plan, the two powers would reduce deployed strategic nuclear weapons to 1,550 each by 2018 (currently the US has 10,000 nuclear weapons of which 5,800 are in active mode).
It is also quite revealing that Iran has supported the call for making the Muslim East a nuclear free zone. This is not only opposed by Zionist Israel (one wonders why?) but also by the US. A UN sponsored conference that was to be held in Helsinki, Finland in December 2012 was abruptly cancelled under pressure from the US and Israel.
As Iran shows transparency about its nuclear activities, it must keep in mind that many inspectors working for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are either Western spies or have links with Western intelligence agencies. Tehran should be very careful about not allowing such spies to sniff around its sensitive military installations. It is certain that all such information would be promptly passed on to the Zionists, the arch enemies of humanity, as well as the US.