On Wednesday, several top US officials who will be leading the American delegation to the talks with Iran gave a background briefing to reporters in Geneva on their perspective for the talks. It makes interesting reading, and I’m excerpting some highlights here, with my own comments:
The central question is: Will the United States (and the P5 + 1) acknowledge that Iran has the right to enrich uranium, but under appropriate international oversight by the IAEA? Will the United States insist that Iran suspend, or freeze, its enrichment program as part of the talks? And will the United States insist that Iran does not have that right, and never will? Judging by the following exchange, the answers are: Not yet, yes, and maybe. Read on:
QUESTION: I just wanted you to clarify, you’re saying suspension is the obvious confidence building measure, but you seem to leave the door open to say it’s not the only one. So essentially there might be a settlement in which Iran never stops enriching.
SENIOR U.S. OFFICIAL #1: No. I didn’t say that. Suspension is something that’s inscribed in five UN Security Council resolutions. It’s at the center of the so-called Way Forward proposal that the 5+1 have on the table. That remains very much our goal collectively in this group.
As I said, that’s not to suggest that there aren’t other steps that could be taken along the way that would help build confidence in Iranian intent, but suspension, as I said, and as it’s made clear in Security Council resolutions, remains our position.
QUESTION: It’s non-negotiable.
SENIOR U.S. OFFICIAL #1: As I said, it’s laid out in five Security Council resolutions pretty clearly.
The fact that it’s laid out in “five Security Council resolutions” doesn’t give it Biblical or Quranic permanence. In the past, at least once, Iran did agree to freeze its uranium processing, but that was long ago, when they had only a tiny number of spinning centrifuges. Now there are more than 8,000. A freeze is very unlikely.
The US officials made clear that the talks are about Iran’s nuclear program, not about human rights in Iran — or about Iran’s grandiose vision of its global and regional role. That seems fine to me. Raising the human rights issue, or the results of the June 12 election and its aftermath, in which Iranian security forces brutally cracked down on the reformist, centrist, and conservative opposition to the regime, would only succeed in sending the Iranian delegation up the wall, for no good reason. Here’s the exchange: