Earlier this month Iran met with representatives from six major powers in Istanbul to discuss its nuclear program. The meeting in itself represented progress, as it was the first time Iran’s nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jaleeli, had met with the group in more than a year. And although little was advanced in the form of concrete resolutions, the two camps did agree to another summit, to be held on May 23 in Baghdad. Beyond that, however, what was achieved? And perhaps just as importantly, what wasn’t?For that we turn to Thomas Pickering, one of the U.S.’s most experienced diplomats. Pickering’s sober analysis points up both the opportunities and the dangers in the current round of talks and highlights issues people should watch as they try to figure out where this whole thing is going.On the positive side, Pickering notes that Tehran comported itself well in Istanbul; gone was the erratic behavior designed to stall, obfuscate and generally annoy the coalition that has been a regular feature of previous talks. On the surface, at least, Iran appears to be serious this time around. Iran’s Supreme Leader also re-issued his fatwa, which declared nuclear weapons were “not permitted” for Muslims, adding that they were a “cardinal sin”.Time also appears to be on the side of diplomacy. Writes Pickering:
The current political situation provides some impetus for progress. Given a willingness on both sides to seek agreement, the pressure of sanctions against Iran, and Israeli interest in some kind of a military strike before the US elections, efforts to maximize this opening would constitute a wise and fruitful course of action.
But, as ever with Iran, warning signs emerged from the talks as well. The U.S. apparently proposed a bilateral meeting with Iran—and was rebuffed. There is also widespread concern that the coalition of major powers—France, Germany, Russia, China, the UK and the U.S.—have yet to reach an agreement on how to respond to Iran’s nuclear agenda. If discussions do advance, this lack of unity could prove detrimental, but for the moment it is not causing too much friction.While Pickering believes there is currently a window of opportunity to make progress, he reminds readers not to expect too much too soon: “there is a long, hard path before the negotiators, and they are many miles from a ‘victory lap.'” Cautious optimism is the watchword here at Via Meadia too. A diplomatic solution is preferable to the military alternative, and Pickering’s report confirms other snippets that suggest Iran is being more cooperative than usual. Should the talks fail, however, there remain few options available to prevent Iran acquiring a nuclear capability. We hope Pentagon planners are not scheduling a vacation anytime soon.