There was no progress in two days of talks in Oman despite the three top diplomats--Iranian Foreign Minister Dr Javad Zarif, US Secretary of State John Kerry and EU Foreign Policy chief Catherine Ashton--held 10 hours of discussions. The talks were described as “intense, serious and tough”. What this meant was that both sides held to their positions without making any concessions.
Monday November 10, 2014, 20:13 EST
Two-days of trilateral talks between Iranian Foreign Minister Dr Javad Zarif, US Secretary of State John Kerry and European Union Foreign Policy Advisor Catherine Ashton in Oman’s capital Muscat failed to achieve any breakthroughs.
There were four rounds of discussions lasting a total of 10 hours but ultimately the issues separating them were not resolved. The venue--Oman--was also significant. Oman had played a major role in facilitating back channel discussions before leading to the first public meeting between Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and his US counterpart Kerry in September 2013 in New York.
A joint press conference that was to have been attended by Dr Zarif, Kerry and Ashton at the conclusion of the Muscat talks was cancelled.
It confirmed what Iran’s senior nuclear negotiator Abbas Araqchi had told Press TV today that no progress had been made.
When asked at the end of two days of talks whether they had made any progress, Dr Zarif said, “We will eventually.”
Abbas Araqchi meanwhile said negotiations in Muscat were useful but did not yield any results. He added that a “lot more goodwill” was needed.
Speaking to reporters in Washington, the US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the talks were “tough, direct and serious.” She said the US remained focused on making progress, and there was still time to do so [until November 24].
While the top officials concluded their talks, deputy level talks will be held on Tuesday (November 11) in Muscat to try and narrow some technical gaps.
Representatives from Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council – Russia, China, France, Britain and the US - plus Germany will hold talks tomorrow.
Two issues seem to be uppermost: the extent of Iran’s uranium enrichment and timetable for the removal of US, EU and UN sanctions against Iran that are completely illegal.
In fact, in a move bound to muddy the waters, the EU slapped further sanctions on a number of Iranian entities and individuals on November 10 even while negotiations were underway in Oman.
Informed observers saw this as an attempt to increase pressure on Iran and present it as a concession in the final phase when the EU would announce their removal.
The drop in oil prices is also seen as a US tactic to exert pressure on Iran that depends on oil revenues for much of its income. This was jointly agreed between US Secretary of State John Kerry and Saudi King Abdullah last September in Riyadh.
At a time when there is so much turmoil in the Middle East, the price of oil should have risen sharply. Instead, it has dropped by one-third in three months.
The drop in oil price is unlikely to affect Iran’s position vis-à-vis its nuclear rights. The Islamic Republic has learned to live with such challenges for decades.
There is bound to be some trimming of expenditure in its budget—most governments do that when there is a drop in revenue—but it would not affect Iran in a significant way.
The main stumbling block in negotiations, according to sources close to the Iranian nuclear negotiating side, is the way in which all the bans imposed on the Islamic Republic would be removed.
Tehran insists all sanctions that have in any case been illegally imposed based on false allegations must be lifted entirely. Washington says sanctions will be lifted slowly and insists that the UN-imposed sanctions should remain in place.
It will be interesting to see whether a deal that would be acceptable to all sides can be finalized by November 24.
At present, they remain far apart mainly because the US and EU have not made the critical decisions they need to make to arrive at a deal.