Positions converge at nuclear talks
“Süddeutsche Zeitung”, October 1 2009
By Paul-Anton Krüger
Iran may import enriched uranium from abroad in the future and agreed on further negotiations
A supporter of the Iranian opposition is protesting in Geneva,
wearing a mask with the face of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
“It’s just a start, and we still need to see some progress,” said EU chief diplomat Javier Solana in Geneva in the evening, when in his usual, yet reasonably reluctant manner proclaiming a small success in the talks between representatives of Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany. As Solana declared after the talks in the Villa Le Saugy, six kilometers off Geneva: “There are still many problems to be solved.”
The Group of Six and Iran have achieved an agreement on three issues: before end of October, there will be another round of talks. According to Solana, the second meeting will “focus on nuclear issues”, however, also in case one party wishes so, issues of “global importance” can be addressed as well. This formula of compromise allows for all parties to save face. The group of six has at least achieved a general commitment that Iran will discuss its nuclear program, while Tehran’s all-encompassing agenda for the talks is not off the stove.
Secondly, according to Solana, Iran agreed to “within weeks” grant permission for the International Atomic Energy Agency to access the uranium enrichment plant near Qom. The existence of the secret site had been revealed last week. Iran had reported it to the IAEA – apparently only after Western intelligence agencies had unveiled the project. A senior U.S. diplomat had pointed out before the talks that this “palpable step” would, for the time being, meet the requirements of the United States as long it included unrestricted access to documents and persons affiliated with the facility.
The third issue grants a major concession to Iran: The Group of Six agreed to provide new fuel for a research reactor in Tehran producing isotopes for medical purposes. Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had, during informal talks at the UN General Assembly in New York, demanded this as a confidence-building gesture. A preparatory meeting in Vienna on October 18 is supposed to clarify the technical details. Iran and the Group of Six agreed that minor enriched uranium from Natanz should be transferred to a third country for further enrichment up to 20 percent, and processed into fuel rods which would then return to Iran.
Russia could take over enrichment
According to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, Iran is allowed to enrich uranium up to 5 percent. What is charming about the proposal is that Iran would abandon a part of its stock of low-enriched uranium, which is a potential source for the high-enriched material required for military purposes. Presumably, Russia will carry out the enrichment, which could contribute to Moscow being politically more involved.
One reason for the success is reportedly the participation of the United States, who for the first time attended the talks as a full member of the Group of Six. During lunch break, for the first time in years, direct contacts were made between high-ranking American and Iranian diplomats. As confirmed by a US spokesman, U.S. Foreign Secretary William Burns during the lunch break had a half-hour talk with Iran’s chief negotiator Saeed Jalili. Jalili is a confidant of President Ahmadinejad and presides the Supreme National Security Council, which in consultation with the spiritual leader Ali Khamenei determines the country’s nuclear policy.
Testing the readiness for dialogue
Diplomats have described the meeting as a “test of Iran’s readiness for dialogue” and proclaimed the goal of “organizing a follow-up process.” An offer submitted by the Group of Six, promising Iran cooperation in the fields of economy, use of nuclear energy, and a gradual lifting of the UN sanctions, with Iran in turn freezing its uranium enrichment, is still regarded to be the foundation of all talks.
Prior to the talks, US diplomats had hinted at possible solutions that would allow Iran to continue enriching uranium. Iran has described this as “inalienable right”. In the course of negotiations there could arise “other ways of building trust,” said the U.S. diplomat. He mentioned “the days when Iran was applying the Additional Protocol” which allowed for more extensive inspections and searching of undeclared nuclear facilities by the IAEA. This would “certainly be an example of the kind of things that help to restore confidence,” he said.
At highest level
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki on Wednesday night surprisingly left the UN headquarters in New York for Washington to pay a visit to the Iranian representation of interests at the Pakistan Embassy. The US authorities had issued the visa. He said Iran was ready for further talks – if required, also at “top level”.
U.S. President Barack Obama spoke of a “constructive start,” now specific steps were required to follow. He demanded that within two weeks Iran should provide acces for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to the recently discovered second uranium enrichment plant. Otherwise, the US will be ready to increase pressure on Iran.
As the IAEA announced, Mohamad El Baradei, General Director of the IAEA, will soon travel to Iran.