Al-Ahram Weekly Online   31 May - 6 June 2012
Issue No. 1100
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Failure in Baghdad

More difficult than prior meetings in Istanbul, talks over Iran's nuclear activities held in Baghdad end more to the advantage of Tehran than not, writes Mojtaba Mousavi

ÒThere is no package offered by the Iranian side [in the negotiations],Ó one senior US diplomat present in the Baghdad meeting told Al-Ahram Weekly an hour after the first round of debate. That was almost one month after nuclear talks in Istanbul. Once again top world powers had come for negotiations with Iran, this time in the dusty capital of Iraq.

Iran's negotiating team on 22 May — one day before the start of talks — entered Iraq and started consultations with Iraqi officials, including Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki and President Jalal Talibani. The late arrival of the P5+1 members (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States), due to bad weather, meant that this time no meetings between the sides were held before the official meetings.

ÒIn first round of the negotiations, Iran offered a five-step package on a variety of subjects, including nuclear and non-nuclear issues.Ó One diplomat present in Baghdad noted that Bahrain and Syria were part of the non-nuclear issues in the package.

It appears, however, that P5+1 members did not understand well the modalities of the package. The long and tough debates that characterised Baghdad's afternoon meetings showed that the negotiations are not going forward well and that the participants could not reach mutual agreement.

The Iranian team accuses the Americans of insisting on Ònon-practicalÓ and ÒradicalÓ statements. Some analysts also suggested that pressure from Israel on Europe and even on Russia and China was the reason that the Baghdad meetings were not as smooth as Istanbul. A Chinese analyst present in Baghdad told the Weekly: ÒEven though China and Israel have very friendly relations, none influences the other.Ó

What was clear was that United States was insisting on illogical demands. When asked if the US is ready to take some steps forward in exchange for Iran's trust building steps, the mentioned senior US diplomat responded: ÒWe have not offered anything from our side to Iran; instead our package has only one step, and that step should be taken by the Iranians.Ó

He added: ÒWe are not going to accept Iran's right to nuclear enrichment and all members of P5+1, including Russia and China, hold to the same idea and have no dispute in our common demand.Ó

On the other hand, when Russia's deputy foreign minister, Sergei Rybakov, was asked there if Russia recognises Iran's nuclear rights, he straightaway defended Iran's right to develop nuclear energy based on Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty protocols. Rybakov's opinion towards further sanctions on Iran was also at odds with that of his American colleague, stating that Russia insists that unilaterally imposed sanctions against Iran should be removed as soon as possible.

The US attitude of no incentives in return for Iran dropping all nuclear enrichment caused the talks to fail on the very first day. One American analyst told the Weekly that there is no way to expect Iran to set aside so many years of scientific achievement in exchange for virtually nothing.

The second day also failed to bring signs of progress. The second plenary session was too short and the outcome left everyone in doubt if any progress in talks was possible. The Iranians were demanding that P5+1 respond to their package, which Iranian diplomats said was based on agreements struck in Istanbul, and mapped according to practical thinking.

On the first day, Ali Baqeri, the Iranian deputy negotiator, in a bilateral meeting with Helga Schmidt, Catherine Ashton's deputy, explained Iran's package and insisted that Iran is waiting for a clear and quick response. Another Iranian diplomat in Baghdad told the Weekly after the first day's plenary session: ÒWe feel that P5+1 is not able to decide or take a risk.Ó

On the second day, Ashton, after a tough night of debate and continuous meetings with P5+1 members, told Iran's chief negotiator Saeed Jalili: ÒWe are not able to reach a final decision.Ó

Unofficial negotiations followed until the scheduled departure of all participants, and even the press conferences of Ashton and Jalili were kept on hold for about an hour as further negotiations took place.

Iran's insistence on its position appeared to win out, saving the talks from complete failure that — according to one American analyst — was the fear of US President Barack Obama. Under pressure from the US Congress, Obama can little afford deadlock in talks with Iran. The Iranians, on the other hand, seem quite aware of the timing of the negotiations, using them to their advantage.

Meanwhile, Ashton's efforts to threaten Iran with oil sanctions were also ineffective, delivered in straightforward bilateral debates between herself and Jalili. The latter insisted that Iran is no way ready to participate in a win-lose deal. Just an hour after meeting with Jalili, and after Ashton had further negotiations with P5+1 members, she informed Jalili that the P5+1 was ready to seek compromise, and she started preparing her final statement. In this statement she not only mentioned respecting Iran's right to nuclear enrichment for peaceful purposes and continuing negotiations based on the NPT, but also proceeding based on a step-by-step approach and mutual interests.

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