Thursday, October 1, 2009

On the Eve of the I.R. Iran Meeting

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Iran and the P5+1 or E3+3 are coming at the meeting in Geneva this Thursday from very different perspectives. The United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany have been insisting for several years now that Iran stop enriching uranium—enriched uranium can be used for energy, or enriched to a much higher level—for bombs. Iran has not only not stopped enriching uranium, but continues to expand its program. Iran, meanwhile, sees uranium enrichment as its right. It points to the fact that Israel has nuclear weapons for which it has not paid a price. Pakistan and India never signed the NPT. They have nuclear weapons. Iran, therefore, believes it has every right to do what it wants with nuclear technology. Iran claims it does not have or want a bomb. So you’ve got pretty much a nuclear club in the P5+1 telling Iran can’t enrich uranium. Iran has said flatly it won’t even discuss “its rights”, meaning it is not going to talk about stopping its program of enrichment.

So given this well-documented impasse, what is the point of Thursday’s meeting and what does each side hope to achieve? The answer to that question is not black and white and it’s quite possible the P5+1 don’t know exactly how they will define success, if there is any, in Geneva on Thursday. But what they have said is that it is a critical test of the Islamic Republic’s intentions to build bridges with the West, because by the end of the year the P5+1 will have made a decision as to whether or not diplomacy can achieve their objectives vis -a -vis Iran’s nuclear program. But negotiating with a country that kept its nuclear program hidden for twenty years is not straightforward, and concerns were brought into sharp relief after last Friday’s news of a recently discovered secret enrichment facility near Iran’s holy city of Qom. Journalists at a meeting on the subject in London today joked they could write the script on this story already today, assuming that this meeting will go the way of the last ones, without tangible progress.

Some, however, said this time feels a bit different. The tone and expectations a bit more serious. A new U.S. administration eager to show it can make a difference here. Iranians are known for surprises. Many speculate they could pull a rabbit or too out the hat in Geneva this time. Many Iran watchers say, if the Iranians are going to try to turn the nuclear talks into a wide ranging discussion, then the P5+1 ought to do the same and put some pressure on the Tehran regime to improve its human rights record, as hundreds of newly arrested political prisoners languish in Iran’s Evin prison and allegations of rape of prisoners are made inside Iran. Those Iran experts say that Iranians fighting for democracy will feel abandoned if during this rare moment of exchange between Iran and the West, their cause is not brought up. But for now, and as far as has been declared, what the P5+1 want tomorrow is an answer to previous offers of incentives made to Iran and an indication that Iran will engage in discussions that will alleviate the international community’s suspicions that Iran may intend to make nuclear weapons, or at least achieve what is called a break-out capacity, which means, getting to a position where it could rapidly produce a bomb if it wanted to.