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: