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Moscow Dialogue On Iranian Nuclear Enrichment: ‘Just Engagement’? – Analysis

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By Shubhra Chaturvedi

The recent talks between the P5+1 countries and Iran held at Moscow were being looked at as the much needed breakthrough in engagement with Iran. Since the ‘international community’ perceives nuclear Iran as a regional and global threat, was the Moscow dialogue capable of any improvement in the situation or was it just a process of engagement?

Moscow dialogue on Iran: Inherent differences

The dialogue held in Moscow on 18 June 2012 displayed differences in the basic perspectives of the negotiating parties. The content, procedure and even the shape of the table which hit the headlines displayed ‘significant gaps between the substance of the two positions’ as observed by Catherine Ashton (The Washington Post, 20 June 2012), the European Union’s top foreign policy representative and the lead negotiator in this case. While the US and its allies wanted to limit the conversation to nuclear issues, Iran wanted to address a wider range of security concerns. The attempts from P5+1 were also to urge Iran to admit to the existence of nuclear weapons in the past in the country. The policy followed by the West towards the alleged Iranian nuclear programme is to ‘stop, shut and ship’.

Iran - Russia Relations
Iran – Russia Relations

The P5+1 countries repeated three specific demands made earlier: to stop the enrichment of uranium to 20 per cent, to close the heavily-fortified enrichment facility in Fordo, and to export its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium. The US however insisted on a complete freeze over uranium enrichment even if it was for civilian purposes. Iran insisted on its right to develop nuclear technology as a signatory to the NPT and on lifting of sanctions that were affecting its oil industry before any further engagement. Iran demanded a change in the ‘red line’ (BBC News, 23 May 2012) for the talks to be productive at all whereas the US and its allies visibly are not ready for changes.

Why engage?

The different reactions and responses to Iran are not been new. Despite the clear demarcation in the attitude among the negotiating parties and their division into two groups, why was there a process of engagement?

The first group was pessimistic about the dialogue and saw sanctions as the way to curb the Iranian nuclear programme. France, who can almost be seen as leading the way, has called for tougher sanctions on Iran. The dynamics behind the change in the French attitude towards sanctions are worth noting as it has taken a convenient u-turn on it policy. The UK and France have announced their plans to strengthen bans on Iran. The French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said ‘Sanctions will continue to be toughened as long as Iran refuses serious negotiations’. Israel has made it clear that it views a significant Iranian enrichment capacity itself as an unacceptable threat and would act by means of sabotage and assassination (TIME Magazine, 13 January 2012). There has been international pressure on Israel to give the diplomatic exchange a chance as well as suggestions for augmenting the defensive and offensive capabilities of Israel.

The second group comprised of China and Russia, acting as balancers against the Western cornering of Iran. Xinhua reported that the Chinese Foreign Ministry expressed hopes on Iran talks. China Daily reported that Le Yucheng, assistant foreign minister who headed the Chinese delegation, said that the Moscow round of talks were pragmatic and helpful, paving the way for further dialogue toward easing the existing divergences. The Huffington Post reported that the Russian officials met twice with Iran’s chief envoy on the sidelines of the talks and tried to keep negotiations on track. Sergei Ryabkov, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, met with top Iranian negotiator Saeed Jalili and tried to convince him to avoid the collapse of the negotiations. US President Obama and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin tried urging Iran to show flexibility towards the talks and emphasized the importance of Iranian efforts to restore international confidence in the ‘exclusively peaceful nature’ of its nuclear programme. The Chinese and Russian efforts to balance out US hegemony in the Iranian case are subtle yet consistent.

Despite plans to engage in the next round of dialogue in Istanbul in July, the European Union plans to impose an embargo on oil purchases from Iran from July, adding to the already imposed sanctions adversely affecting the Iranian economy. This was a clear indication of talks being ‘too low on expectations’ (The Guardian, 7 June 2012) before they started. According to many, the right to develop nuclear technology will take Iran to a ‘zone of immunity’, however for Iran it is a struggle for its inalienable rights. George Perkovich from the Carnegie Endowment says of the importance of the struggle of several States to fight for its right to develop its nuclear programme: ‘Even if it is constrained, it will get an aura associated with a nuclear state’. The problem lies in States engaging for the sake of it, irrespective of the productivity that it may yield. It is important to deal with the ‘aura’ associated with the possession of nuclear technology to ensure any breakthrough in the attempts, especially in the case of Iran, considering the possible spillover effect that it could lead to.

Shubhra Chaturvedi
Research Intern, IPCS
email: [email protected]

IPCS

IPCS

IPCS (Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies) conducts independent research on conventional and non-conventional security issues in the region and shares its findings with policy makers and the public. It provides a forum for discussion with the strategic community on strategic issues and strives to explore alternatives. Moreover, it works towards building capacity among young scholars for greater refinement of their analyses of South Asian security.

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