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The first round of talks between the new Iranian government of President Hassan Rouhani, and the six nations of the US, UK, France, Germany, Russia, and China, are coming to a head. It is expected that by the end of Wednesday Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Iranian Foreign Minister, and Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief acting as convenor for the six nations, will release a joint statement of progress and announce the next session of talks to be held within a couple of weeks.
On Tuesday, Zarif gave a presentation laying out a roadmap to guide the two parties out of the growing conflict over Iran’s nuclear program. It now remains to be seen whether or not the six nations can create a fair response that Iran would be willing to discuss.
EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at the latest round of talks. (NY Times)
The exact details of Iran’s proposal are being kept secret, but Abbas Araqchi, the deputy to Zarif, explained that the map consists of three stages. The first stage would involve a deal to build initial confidence by placing unspecified limits on Iranian uranium enrichment in return for relief from sanctions.
Stage two would build on the growing trust between the two parties, although it is not explained how; and stage three would lead to a new relationship of understanding between Iran and the rest of the world, in which Iran will still be allowed to enrich uranium without incurring sanctions, by following agreed limits, giving it rights to run a complete nuclear program.
Araqchi said that one of the limits that they would be willing to abide by in the third phase would be an agreement for more intrusive inspections by the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Currently Iran only allows the IAEA to inspect certain facilities that it has agreed to, but under the new proposal the IAEA would be given a free reign to inspect anywhere they fancied.
Iran hopes that by making the first move and suggesting a plan to begin restricting its nuclear program, the six nations will be more willing to reply with an end state solution that would see all sanctions lifted. Then the negotiations can really begin.
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Iran has said that as part of stage one it will completely halt all production of medium enriched (20%) uranium, as long as the US and EU relax their sanctions. One possibility is that Iranian assets, worth some $50 billion, might be unfrozen. The assets would be vital to help Rouhani build confidence that he has a solution to ending the sanctions, and help him continue with reforms that are attempting to ease economic problems.
The Guardian believes that Obama is likely to agree to this proposal as finding a peaceful solution to the conflict in Iran would give him power and support at a time when he seems to be lacking in both. The problem is that Obama’s administration is hampered by Congress, which has restated that the sanctions will only be lifted if all uranium enrichment is halted permanently.
By. Joao Peixe of Oilprice.com
Joao is a writer for Oilprice.com