This week, world powers presented Iran with a new offer to lift some sanctions if Iran scales back nuclear activity. The P5+1–the five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany–hoped these discussions will prove useful as Tehran’s lack of cooperation with the IAEA grows the fear that Iran’s nuclear activity could be used to build bombs. The two-day meetings came to a close without an immediate breakthrough, but the powers have resolved to continue negotiations April 5th and 6th, after nuclear experts consult in March.
After attempts at negotiation eight months before failed to produce any successes, these recent meetings have been described as useful and a positive step towards resolving the crisis. Iranian chief negotiator Saheed Jalili described the P5+1 proposals as “more realistic” than ever before. Jalili, a close confidant of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, further explained that not only were the proposals more realistic, but that the P5+1 “tried to bring proximity in some points between the viewpoints of Iran and their own.” Despite the positive steps many chief negotiators see, Mr. Jalili also made it very clear that we still have a long way to go before we can reach an ultimate agreement on the matter of nuclear development.
In a written statement, Alireza Miryousefi, Head of the Press Office for the Mission of Islamic Republic of Iran to the UN, stated, “The Islam Republic of Iran stressed the [next] steps must be balanced and simultaneous, and that suggestions should not neglect I.R of Iran’s rights. Therefore it was agreed to convene the expert meeting in Istanbul on March 18th, which would be followed by the 5+1 meeting with Iran on April 5th and 6th in Almaty. We consider these talks a positive step.”
Since 2010, Iran has reportedly enriched uranium to a level of 20 percent, despite international concern and IAEA protests. This level of enriched uranium is an important technical step towards creating enriched nuclear weapons. Although world leaders suspect Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons, Iran has firmly denied these claims, insisting that the enrichment is for purely civilian purposes. According to Iranian officials, Iran needs enriched uranium to make medical isotopes.
The conditions for the P5+1 to scale back on some sanctions in Iran rely on Iran’s willingness to both scale back their nuclear activity and shut down their underground Fordow enrichment plant. While further negotiations are set to take place in April, Iran currently refuses to close Fordow. According to Iranian leaders, they have a sovereign right to nuclear enrichment, and will therefore not consider shutting down their main plant.
The negotiations this week took place while Israel announced their own warning against further Iranian nuclear development, stating that, if other peace negotiations fail, they will stop Iran’s nuclear program with military force. Countering Israeli threats, Iran stated during the talks that the real threat to peace lies in Israel’s own nuclear arsenal.
The negotiations this week ended with high hopes on all sides, but only time will tell how these negotiations will end. World powers hope that Iran will actively consider their proposals within the next month. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton–lead negotiator for the world powers–stated that, “The proposals we put forward are designed to build in confidence and enable us to move forward.” Until April 5th, we can only speculate on how final negotiations with Iran will ultimately end.