Baghdad Talks: Lessons for All
At the end of negotiations in Baghdad, Ms. Catherine Ashton, the EU representative in the talks, showed neither optimism nor pessimism, and said, "We both want to make progress, and there is some common ground. However, significant differences remain. Nonetheless, we do agree on the need for further discussion to expand that common ground." For his part, Dr. Saeed Jalili, Iran's chief negotiator, sounded more optimistic, and said, "In this round of negotiations, we witnessed a good atmosphere where the two sides discussed their issues in a transparent and frank manner and both sides were acquainted with the positions of others better."
When the Istanbul talks ended last month, an atmosphere of hope was created, indicating the desire of both sides to make some compromises in order to prepare the ground for further negotiations. Western officials suggested that, in return for Iran's readiness to suspend all operations at Fordow enrichment facility, there could be some relaxation of economic sanctions against Iran. However, a few days before the Baghdad meeting, the US and some Western countries took a harder line and rejected any notion of easing the sanctions in this round of negotiations.
As soon as the Baghdad talks started, it became clear that the P5+1 was not prepared to engage in discussions on sanctions, a point Iran has been insisting on for quite some time. The best Western countries were ready to offer was to furnish fuel plates for the Tehran research reactor, help with nuclear safety at Iranian reactors, and provide spare parts for Iranian commercial planes. This offer fell far short of Iran's expectations and was rejected, because, as far as Iran was concerned, giving up the 20 percent enrichment should have produced something tangible in return on sanctions, such as a delay of the EU boycott of Iranian oil.
It is an open secret that Israel is vehemently against the resumption of talks between Iran and P5+1 countries and has called for the dismantlement of Iranian nuclear facilities. Furthermore, various Israeli officials have openly threatened to attack Iran militarily. Following the successful visit by the head of the IAEA to Tehran last week, in which the two sides agreed to expand their cooperation, the Israeli defense minister said, "Even possible moves by Iran to open its nuclear facilities to greater UN inspection does not rule out a possible Israeli military strike." That, by itself, shows that Israel is not after the peaceful solution of the Iranian nuclear program. Rather, all it is interested in is to deprive regional countries from scientific advancement, while keeping its nuclear arsenal intact.
In addition to Israeli officials, neoconservatives in the US have stepped up their campaign against any compromise with Iran. They have sided with Israel in opposing agreement with Iran that would allow any enrichment of uranium on Iranian soil. On Thursday, three prominent pro-Israeli senators wrote in the Wall Street Journal that Iran "cannot be trusted to maintain enrichment or reprocessing activities on its territory for the foreseeable future." The same pattern of behavior is being followed by other Israeli lobbyists in Washington and some other Western capitals.
What is unfortunate is the fact that the US government is showing some weakness under Israeli pressure. The US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, said on Thursday, "As we lay the groundwork for these talks, we will keep up the pressure. All of our sanctions will remain in place and continue to move forward during this period." In an election year, US officials are cautious not to alienate Jewish voters, hence the rationale behind Clinton's statement. The question is why the US should put interests of Israeli warmongers ahead of its own interests and those of the region. Sanctions and threat of military action against Iran have been the two most important tools Washington and its allies have employed in order to put pressure on Iran to put aside its peaceful nuclear program. While sanctions have affected Iran's economy, the threat of military action is considered by Tehran as a hollow threat, bearing in mind Iranian military capabilities as well as vulnerabilities of Israel and the US in the region. Iran has said time and again that its NPT membership should bring with it all privileges associated with the treaty, including the right to enrichment. If, due to any reason such as Israeli pressure or unwise decisions by the American establishment, the West continues to not acknowledge Iran's rights under the NPT, Iran has no choice but to reconsider its membership in that treaty. Therefore, in order to save the region from unwanted consequences, the US and its allies are well-advised to take the opportunity and negotiate in good faith before and during the next round of negotiations.