Iran talks close to death

A diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear crisis appears further away than ever following the failure of the third round of talks between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council along with Germany (P5+1).

While Baroness Ashton, who headed the P5+1 delegation, avoided using the word “failure”, she said in her final statement in Moscow on Tuesday night that “after five plenary sessions and several bilateral meetings we have begun to tackle critical issues. However, it remains clear that there are significant gaps between the substance of the two positions.”

In the absence of any agreement on substance, all that was left to agree on was another meeting. But since after three rounds of talks diplomats at the most senior level have achieved no progress whatsoever, the next talks will be at a much lower “technical level” and will be aimed at providing “further clarification” of the issues, not actual diplomacy.

While Western diplomats were extremely pessimistic about talks and have remained so in their aftermath, Iran’s chief negotiator, Saeed Jalili, seemed much more upbeat. He described the talks in Moscow as “more serious, more real and beyond a simple expression of stances”.

The international proposal set before the Iranians was summarised as “Stop, Shut, Ship” — stop enriching uranium to 20 per cent purity, shut down the underground purification plant in Fordow, ship the uranium already enriched to 20 per cent out of Iran. In return, the Iranians have been promised an upgrade for their civilian nuclear reactor and help with maintaining their ageing airliners. Further down the road, if Tehran complies, sanctions could be eased.

Mr Jalili responded saying: “Uranium enrichment is the inalienable right of the Iranian nation.” He warned the international community that Iran would reciprocate “any unconstructive attitude on the path of talks with an appropriate response”.

The dismal outcome of the P5+1 talks will bolster the arguments of the those in Israel who belittled the chances of a diplomatic solution, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. After the first round of talks in Istanbul two months ago, Mr Netanyahu said that the Iranians had simply been given a “freebie” to continue developing their nuclear programme.

Brigadier-General (ret) Mike Herzog, former military secretary to Defence Minister Ehud Barak, commented: “Israel will say the result highlights the fact the parties are unable to continue at a high level. The differences cannot be resolved on a technical level. Israel will declare that diplomacy is failing and will probably demand the international community to set a timetable and just not let talks go and on.”

Last updated: 3:45pm, June 21 2012