After some gloomy announcements last week, reports from those engaged in negotiations with Iran have turned more positive. A one-hour talk between Iran’s lead negotiator, Saeed Jalili, and Lady Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, is said to have gone well, with Iran indicating for the first time that it is prepared to discuss the scaling back of its nuclear ambitions.
The talks between Ashton and Jalili came ahead of a planned meeting between Iran and the six major powers in Moscow on Monday. That meeting is widely viewed as a decisive moment if diplomacy is to succeed. The Financial Times has more details:
After the Ashton-Jalili telephone call on Monday, EU officials said a more positive tone had been established. “Iran has this evening backed down from demanding an experts meeting ahead of Moscow and has done a lot to clear the air,” said a senior EU official. “There’s a sense now that after walking up the hill over the past few weeks, the Iranians are now walking down it again and the Moscow talks are very much on.”
The senior EU official revealed that, in the course of Monday’s phone call, Mr Jalili said that he would now engage with a detailed confidence-building proposal that was put to Iran at the last meeting between the parties in Baghdad.
Among the proposals is an agreement by Iran to freeze production of highly enriched uranium. In return, the EU and the six world powers will consider removing some of the sanctions imposed in recent months as well as recognize Iran’s right to enrich some uranium.
This is positive news, as far it goes, but it is much too soon to tell if it is the beginning of a fundamental breakthrough or yet more stalling by the mullahs. Ultimately, the Supreme Leader is the one who makes this decision, and he may not have even shared his intentions with his closest aides.
For now, the U.S. and its allies need to remain as unified as possible, to keep the pressure up and the sanctions on, but also to be ready to take reciprocal steps should the Iranians show inclination to make some actual concessions. This process may or may not work, and Iran may or may not be sincere, but patient, persevering and firm diplomacy—backed ultimately by the threat of force—is pretty much the only option available to us right now.