Iran and the P5+1 group (United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany) are to resume negotiations in Almaty, Kazakhstan on February 26. Their last meeting was eight-month ago in Moscow. That meeting did not produce a breakthrough and that was expected because, in part, the U.S. was not prepared to offer anything of significance at a time when the president was facing re-election. With Obama re-elected and a new national security team being put in place, both sides must feel that they can make some progress. Otherwise there would be no reason to try again. That much was signaled by the new Secretary of State John Kerry who encouraged Iran two days ago (on Friday) to make a serious offer and promised that “the international community is ready to respond”. So what can Iran offer? Or more importantly, what can’t Iran offer?
Here are some of the key points upon which Iran appears to be unwilling to compromise:
1. Iran’s right to nuclear enrichment: Iran says that, before any agreement can be reached, the P5+1 must formally recognize Iran’s right to develop nuclear energy and to enrich uranium under the framework of the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty).
2. Serious offers only: Iran wants the P5+1 to make only credible offers in return for Iran’s reassurances that the nuclear program remains peaceful and any actions that it may take towards that goal. Specifically, Iran finds the offer of spare parts for its aging Boeing airplanes in return for the suspension of uranium enrichment to be insulting.
3. No threats: Iran wants the U.S. and E.U. to rescind the unilateral sanctions they imposed on key Iranian products and institutions. Iran argues that Western states may refuse to deal with Iran if they choose to do so, but they cannot punish other countries for having trade relations with Iran.
From the point of view of Iranian leadership, these three points appear to be the foundation for any agreement. It appears that all previous meetings have come to a halt because these points were not satisfactorily addressed in the eyes of the Iranian leaders.
The P5+1 have gone to these meetings with two goals in mind:
1. Nuclear Technology: The P5+1 seem interested in denying Iran the capacity and capability to domestically enrich any amount of uranium to any level.
2. Nuclear material: The P5+1 want Iran to remove almost all nuclear materials out of the country and import all enriched uranium and nuclear fuel it needs instead.
These are the broad goals for each side of these diplomatic negotiations. But both parties have brought forth other issues. With the rise in sectarian strife in the region and increased instability in the Middle East, both sides hinted at broadening the negotiations to include other matters of common interest. But those issues are no more than useful enticement tools. The nuclear standoff remains the single most important issue for Western countries and for Iran at the same time.
Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. He is the author of a number of books and articles. Opinion herein are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the University or any other organization with which he is affiliated.