Framework of Iranian Nuclear Talks Guaranteed Istanbul Failure

William R. Hawkins

In diplomacy, the framework within which governments think can determine the course of events as much as any negotiations. Consider the seven-nation Istanbul meeting Jan. 21-22 to discuss Iran's nuclear program. Baroness Catherine Ashton, the high representative of the European Union for foreign affairs and security policy, led what she called the EU3 (Britain, France, Germany) + 3 (China, Russia, United States) group in talks with Iran.

China, however, consistently called the group the P5 + 1, which means the five permanent members of the United Nations plus Germany. From Beijing's perspective, a UN framework gives China a veto over the collective action of the group, and prevents any "unilateral" action against Iran by other states, particularly the U.S. or individual members of the EU that Washington could persuade to follow it.

The main objective of China and Russia is to prevent any direct action that could threaten the Tehran regime. This belies the framework of unity that Ashton wanted to establish. Iran could not stand against the six most powerful nations in the world if they were truly working together; but Tehran knows they are not. Beijing and Moscow are aligned with what they believe is the most powerful country in the energy rich Persian Gulf region. It is not their interest to see Iran weakened.

At her press conference after the failure of the talks, Ashton said "We expected Iran to have a pragmatic attitude and respond positively. This is not the conclusion I had hoped for." But on what could she have based any hope?  The Chinese press was full of defiant Iranian statements. The Communist Party newspaper Global Times quoted  Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as saying two days before the meeting that a nuclear Iran cannot be stopped by the West, "The Iranian nation won't retreat an inch. The nuclear issue is over from the Iranian point of view." The official Chinese news agency Xinhua reported,

Iran's permanent representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Ali-Asghar Soltanieh, said a day ahead of talks that Iran would not halt its uranium enrichment project under any condition.

 

Soltanieh said in Moscow on Thursday Iran did not fear any threat and "the Islamic Republic of Iran will not halt its enrichment program," an official IRNA news agency report said on Friday.

 

"We will not implement the UN Security Council resolutions under any condition and will not halt the enrichment process even for a single moment," he was quoted as saying.

 

After the meeting, Xinhua reported from Istanbul,

Iran's chief nuclear negotiator said here on Saturday that the "preconditions" proposed by Iran are actually its non-negotiable rights.

Iran has demanded the world powers to recognize its rights to develop nuclear program, enrich uranium and lift sanctions, before talks, which are considered as "preconditions" by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton to block negotiation progress. "These are not preconditions, but rights," Saeed Jalili said.

 

Ashton had stated sanctions levied because of Iran's uranium enrichment program could not be lifted because "The IAEA has not been able to certify the exclusive peaceful nature of the Iranian program."

Unfortunately, Ashton's framework is only for continued talks. The EU3 started this process in 2003 as a peaceful alternative to the direct action used by the U.S. in Iraq. China and Russia joined for the same reason. The EU3 wanted a negotiated solution whereas Beijing and Moscow are happy to let Iran move forward as it has over the last eight years in the absence of a "solution" that would end its nuclear weapons ambitions.

The current framework guarantees Iran can get nuclear weapons if it wants them. Only a change of regimes in Tehran or "unilateral" action against Iran to destroy its military program can reach a true solution.

In diplomacy, the framework within which governments think can determine the course of events as much as any negotiations. Consider the seven-nation Istanbul meeting Jan. 21-22 to discuss Iran's nuclear program. Baroness Catherine Ashton, the high representative of the European Union for foreign affairs and security policy, led what she called the EU3 (Britain, France, Germany) + 3 (China, Russia, United States) group in talks with Iran.

China, however, consistently called the group the P5 + 1, which means the five permanent members of the United Nations plus Germany. From Beijing's perspective, a UN framework gives China a veto over the collective action of the group, and prevents any "unilateral" action against Iran by other states, particularly the U.S. or individual members of the EU that Washington could persuade to follow it.

The main objective of China and Russia is to prevent any direct action that could threaten the Tehran regime. This belies the framework of unity that Ashton wanted to establish. Iran could not stand against the six most powerful nations in the world if they were truly working together; but Tehran knows they are not. Beijing and Moscow are aligned with what they believe is the most powerful country in the energy rich Persian Gulf region. It is not their interest to see Iran weakened.

At her press conference after the failure of the talks, Ashton said "We expected Iran to have a pragmatic attitude and respond positively. This is not the conclusion I had hoped for." But on what could she have based any hope?  The Chinese press was full of defiant Iranian statements. The Communist Party newspaper Global Times quoted  Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as saying two days before the meeting that a nuclear Iran cannot be stopped by the West, "The Iranian nation won't retreat an inch. The nuclear issue is over from the Iranian point of view." The official Chinese news agency Xinhua reported,

Iran's permanent representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Ali-Asghar Soltanieh, said a day ahead of talks that Iran would not halt its uranium enrichment project under any condition.

 

Soltanieh said in Moscow on Thursday Iran did not fear any threat and "the Islamic Republic of Iran will not halt its enrichment program," an official IRNA news agency report said on Friday.

 

"We will not implement the UN Security Council resolutions under any condition and will not halt the enrichment process even for a single moment," he was quoted as saying.

 

After the meeting, Xinhua reported from Istanbul,

Iran's chief nuclear negotiator said here on Saturday that the "preconditions" proposed by Iran are actually its non-negotiable rights.

Iran has demanded the world powers to recognize its rights to develop nuclear program, enrich uranium and lift sanctions, before talks, which are considered as "preconditions" by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton to block negotiation progress. "These are not preconditions, but rights," Saeed Jalili said.

 

Ashton had stated sanctions levied because of Iran's uranium enrichment program could not be lifted because "The IAEA has not been able to certify the exclusive peaceful nature of the Iranian program."

Unfortunately, Ashton's framework is only for continued talks. The EU3 started this process in 2003 as a peaceful alternative to the direct action used by the U.S. in Iraq. China and Russia joined for the same reason. The EU3 wanted a negotiated solution whereas Beijing and Moscow are happy to let Iran move forward as it has over the last eight years in the absence of a "solution" that would end its nuclear weapons ambitions.

The current framework guarantees Iran can get nuclear weapons if it wants them. Only a change of regimes in Tehran or "unilateral" action against Iran to destroy its military program can reach a true solution.