Iran conference in Istanbul April 14,2012 (Tolga Adanali/Reuters)
Diplomats met in Istanbul on Saturday for the first formal negotiation in over a year between Iran and P5+1 (the United States, Russia, China, England, France, Germany, and the UK). After 10 hours of intensive negotiations over Iran's nuclear program, it appears the outcome is being hailed favorably by all parties; "the most positive atmosphere in nearly a decade" ending with an agreement for diplomats to prepare "concrete proposals for resolving the impasse".
Netanyahu is ticked!
Israel on Sunday slammed a decision by key world powers to place no new restrictions on Iran before the next meeting about its nuclear program in late May.
"My initial impression is that Iran has been given a freebie," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. "It has got five weeks to continue enrichment without any limitation, any inhibition."
On Saturday, negotiators said "constructive and useful" talks had taken place in Istanbul.
"We have agreed that the Non-Proliferation Treaty forms a key basis for what must be serious engagement to ensure all the obligations under the treaty are met by Iran while fully respecting Iran's right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy," EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said following the meeting with Iran's top negotiator, Saeed Jalili.
Perhaps most important to the Iranians may have been the agreement that the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) is the framework to ensure that Iran's nuclear programs are peaceful.
"The important point is that we believe the American people are paying a severe cost for [believing] false and imaginary threats" about the dangers of Iran, said Jalili. War fears have helped boost oil prices, and therefore the price at the pump.
Iran's stated opposition to weapons of mass destruction – including nuclear weapons – is a "great opportunity," Jalili said. The Iranian negotiating team detected significant change at the negotiating table.
"They should not speak to Iranians with the language of threats and a strategy of pressure," Jalili told the Monitor. "We consider it a step forward, and a positive one, when after 15 months they themselves change their attitudes and approach, and say we want to have talks for cooperation."
On the European and American side, there was a belief that it was Iran that had dramatically adjusted its approach. In some previous talks, Iran refused to discuss its nuclear program at all; in January last year, two preconditions imposed by the Iranian side – that the P5+1 accept Iranian enrichment at the outset, and the lifting of UN sanctions – scuttled the talks before an agenda could even be set.
Veterans of Iran's past negotiation teams said they could not remember such positive messages, since perhaps the 2003 talks at which Iran agreed with European negotiators to suspend their nascent enrichment program – as they did until 2005.
I am very relieved and hope this is the beginning of a new, long lasting, positive approach. It was just last week that several political analysts were remarking on the intractability of the hard-line "Surrender now or we'll bomb you later" approach requiring Iran to give up the Fordo enrichment plant. On background, CBS reported Netanyahu had issued a demand last month that Iran dismantle nuclear research facility at Fordo. Last week the Obama administration followed with the exact same demand.
The hard-line approach would require the country’s military leadership to give up the Fordo enrichment plant outside the holy city of Qum, and with it a huge investment in the one facility that is most hardened against airstrikes.
Regardless of who thought of that plan, it sure stinks.
Next on the agenda are the talks with the same parties in Baghdad, late May. We can all breathe a sigh of relief just a little bit longer.