Some more detail from Elaine Sciolino of the NY Times on a “None Paper” (sic) that Iran distributed at Saturday’s talks in Geneva. (A .pdf version of the document is available here.) The paper’s amateurish style is apparently in stark contrast with Iran’s previous negotiating team (made up of career diplomats), and according to Sciolino’s sources, even the Russian deputy foreign minister couldn’t suppress a laugh upon reading it.
The lack of seriousness in Iran’s position, which did not specifically address the P5+1’s initial “freeze for freeze” proposal, is obviously the talking point upon which the EU3 and the U.S. have converged. (I’ve yet to see any commentary in the Russian English-language press.) Basically, the P5+1 were expecting an immediate acceptance of the “freeze for freeze” (whereby no further sanctions would be imposed in return for no further expansion of Iran’s uranium enrichment capacity), followed by the start of talks, conditioned on a full-scale freeze of uranium enrichment, in six weeks time.
The Iranians instead signalled a willingness to accept certain conditions for future rounds of negotiations. So an initial three-meeting followup round between Solana and Jalili would identify “. . .[r]equirements, manner and time of entry into the next stage.” The next phase, referred to as the “Start of talks,” would begin after “. . .completion of stage one and implementation of the agreed requirements. . .”
But the following paragraph describes those requirements, and they amount to a “freeze for non-freeze”: the P5+1 agree to refrain from any further UN or unilateral sanctions, as well as the discontinuation of some already in place, while Iran must simply “continue to cooperate with the Agency (IAEA).” Only after this phase does the Iranian paper address the start of “negotiations,” which would be accompanied by the P5+1 discontinuing all sanctions, and Iran implementing “the agreed action.”
Granted, there’s still a gap, but it’s a suggestive gap, and it was obviously unrealistic to expect the Iranians to yield on their longstanding “red line” at the first sitdown. So I’m not sure how productive the heavy-handed media campaign is. After all, according to Dana Perino, the White House press secretary, “We don’t think that talking about specific negotiating tactics or your negotiating position in the press is the best way to negotiate a deal.” She was, of course, referring to Iraqi PM Nouri Maliki’s support for the Obama withdrawal timetable when she said that. But the point seems valid here as well.
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