Though we still don’t know many details of the most recent round of talks between the P5+1 and Iran, and won’t for some time (both sides have agreed to keep the proposal Iran reportedly presented at the talks to themselves) word coming out of Geneva has been mostly positive.
After two days of discussion, EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton called the talks “intensive and important,” and “the most detailed we’ve ever had.”
One senior US administration official speaking not for attribution even went so far as to say, “I have been doing this now for two years and I have never had such intense, detailed, straight- forward, candid conversations with the Iran delegation before.”
The talks are the first since the election of Iran’s new, more moderate, President Hassan Rouhani, and represent the first true test of the waters between the two sides. Recent positive events, including a historic phone call between Rouhani and US President Barack Obama, the first between Iran and the US in more than 15 years, have lent an additional air of cautious optimism to the conversation. But much has yet to be done before we have a clear idea of the outcome. Diplomacy takes time, and in many ways, we’ve only just begun.
In addition to talks between Iran and the P5+1, the US and Iran reportedly held “useful” bilateral talks on Tuesday evening, following on a recent meeting between Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and US Secretary of State John Kerry in New York. The meeting in New York marked the first time the two sides have engaged in bilateral discussions since 2009, when Iran’s nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili sat down for a one-on-one “sidebar” discussion with then Under Secretary of State William Burns. The addition of such talks bodes well for the future of negotiations, since the US holds the majority of the cards pertaining to sanctions relief.
The two sides will meet again in Geneva for talks on Nov. 7 and 8, with nuclear and sanctions experts meeting in the meantime to discuss technical issues. And no doubt, the discussion on the outside will continue, even in absence of firm details outlining the progress we can expect to see.
In a letter to Obama, a group of six Democratic and four Republican U.S. senators recently called for the immediate suspension of all enrichment as a precursor to suspending the implementation of additional sanctions on Iran. While Iran’s enrichment capacity is rightly a concern, Colin Kahl and Ali Nader astutely point out here that the goal of zero enrichment is unrealistic. Most serious analysts (as they note) would agree.
Nonetheless, demands for additional sanctions increased in Congress Wednesday, as Senator Marco Rubio jumped to introduce a resolution calling for new sanctions, and reaffirmed the message that no sanctions relief be made available until Iran has abandoned enrichment.
“No one should be impressed by what Iran appears to have brought to the table in Geneva” Rubio said. “Tehran has broken its word far too many times to be trusted. Due to its complete disregard for previous international agreements, we must take a firm stand in all negotiations regarding the nuclear capabilities Iran is permitted to retain.”
The resolution comes just weeks after the US’ lead negotiator, Wendy Sherman, asked the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to hold off on additional sanctions to allow the P5+1 to test whether Rouhani’s delegation could deliver on the promise of a deal.