Iranians celebrate the election of Hassan Rouhani. (Reuters/Fars News)
Despite the squawking of hawks—from Israel and pro-Israel neoconservatives worried that talking to Iran is like “Munich 1938” to Saudi Arabia’s paranoid belief that the United States and Iran are about to strike a deal to divvy up the Persian Gulf—it does appear that progress is being made in two days of talks between Iran and the P5+1 in Geneva.
Caution: there is a long way to go, and even the Iranian proposals so far seem to suggest a minimum of six months before a deal is reached. The next round of talks in Geneva is already set for November, according to Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif:
“The talks will continue in a few weeks in Geneva and during this period the members of the P5+1 will have a chance to acquire the necessary readiness regarding the details of Iran’s plans and the steps that they must take.”
So far, the reaction of US and European officials at the Geneva talks seems cautiously optimistic, in sharp contrast to past talks, after which Western diplomats appeared glum and criticized Iran for being unwilling to respond in detail to concrete proposals. This time, both US and EU officials used almost identical phrases, according to The Christian Science Monitor:
“For the first time, very detailed technical discussions took place,” said Michael Mann, the spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who is leading the talks for the P5+1 group (the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany). That exact choice of words was echoed by a senior US official, who said in a statement: “For the first time, we had very detailed technical discussions.”
After two days of talks, Ashton said that the two sides had held “the most detailed talks ever” and Zarif said that the talks were “extensive and fruitful,” according to the BBC. Though details are scarce, and Iranian officials refused to describe their proposal in public, Iran put forward the general outline of a six-month plan to end the confrontation over Iran’s nuclear program, and the chief negotiators for Iran and the United States held a rare, one-on-one session. The title of Zarif’s presentation in Geneva was “Closing an Unnecessary Crisis—Opening New Horizons.” Though Iran, according to Zarif, will never abandon its right to enrich uranium and maintain a nuclear program for civilian purposes, Iran is willing to open itself for highly intrusive inspections, including spot checks by the International Atomic Energy Agency, and to limit its production and stockpiles. Reports the BBC:
Key P5+1 demands include the acceptance by Iran of a comprehensive verification regime—with unannounced checks—and a reduction in Iran’s level of uranium enrichment.
Asked about these two points earlier on Wednesday, [Iran’s] Deputy Foreign Minster Abbas Araqchi was quoted as saying: “Neither of these issues are within the first step [of the Iranian proposal] but form part of our last steps.”
Confounding the Israeli hardliners, Araqchi even gave an unprecedented interview to a reporter for Israel Radio in which he suggested that Israel could live in peace with Iran after a deal is struck:
“Any agreement reached will open new horizons in [our] relations with all states,” Araqchi told Israel Radio reporter Gideon Kutz. Araqchi also responded with a “Yes” when Kutz asked him whether Israel would be able to live in peace with whatever deal would be reached between Western powers and the Islamic Republic.
In the pages of National Review, The Weekly Standard, and The Wall Street Journal—along with the ever-hawkish Washington Post—the hawks are near-apoplectic over what many of them see as Chamberlain-like appeasement by the Obama administration, even though there’s no deal yet. It’s true that Congress, which has imposed tough sanctions on Iran, can refuse to lift them—under pressure from AIPAC—if and when an accord is tentatively reached. Fact is, though, once an accord is in sight, international sanctions against Iran will crumble into nothing even if the United States refuses to ease them, because the rest of the world—China, Russia, India, Turkey and the Europeans and Japan—won’t go along with sanctions backed only by the United States and Israel.
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