London, Asharq Al-Awsat—The latest round of negotiations between Iran and P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany) taking place today and tomorrow in Kazakhstan’s capital, Almaty, has yet to produce any clear results.
The P5+1 hope that Iran will accept their offer to limit its most sensitive nuclear work in exchange for the step-by-step easing of some economic sanctions.
Iran argues that as a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), it is entitled to develop and acquire nuclear technology for peaceful purposes, and insists that all of its nuclear sites are under 24-hour surveillance by IAEA inspectors.
A few days prior to the second Almaty summit, Iran’s deputy chief negotiator, Ali Baqeri, said that the Islamic Republic will present a number of new clear and effective proposals, which raised hopes that Iran’s position might have softened. Baroness Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy chief, also expressed cautious optimism in the lead up to the talks.
Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran’s foreign minister, has held a telephone conversation with his German counterpart, Guido Westerwelle, in which he expressed hope that the new Almay talks would be the “start of a move forward” towards concrete results, the Fars news agency reported.
In contrast, the head of Iran’s nuclear negotiation team has once again emphasized Iran’s insistence on its fundamental right to a peaceful nuclear program, saying: “We think our talks tomorrow can go forward with one word. That is the acceptance of the rights of Iran, particularly the right to enrichment.”
Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, also struck a defiant tone in his Nowruz (Persian New Year) speech on the issue of the on-going negotiations, clearly expressing his skepticism about their chances of success, although he did not explicitly rule out an agreement.
In his speech, Khamenei reiterated Iran’s official position that the Islamic Republic is committed to complying with the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) supervisory regulations and Non-Proliferation Treaty safeguards so long as Iran’s right to the peaceful use of uranium enrichment is recognized and respected by world powers, particularly the US.
The West remains suspicious about Iranian intentions with regard to the pursuit of nuclear technology. Consequently, the P5+1 is seeking practical assurances, including inspections and the disclosure of information as confidence-building measures before recognizing Iran’s right to enrich uranium.
Western demands are one of the reasons for Iran’s defiance, despite the painful effects of sanctions on Iranian economy and society. Just two days ago, two US-based research centers published a study that estimated Iran’s huge investment in its nuclear program has exceeded USD 100 billion. The report describes Iran’s nuclear program as one of the most costly and economically inefficient in the world.
The crippling sanctions imposed on Iran have had grave effects on its economy, resulting in three-fold fall of the value of the Iranian rial against the US dollar in less than 18 months. Inflation in household and commodity prices has also increased considerably since last June, when the EU embargo on purchases of Iranian oil and its derivatives went into effect.
Despite various diplomatic initiatives to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue, none have led to a mutually agreeable path towards a negotiated settlement, or even a workable framework of confidence-building measures between the two sides. The combination of harsh economic sanctions and unprecedented international isolation is intended to change Iranian leaders’ perceptions that they can continue with their controversial nuclear program, but so far to no avail.