The Road to Baghdad: Preparing for the Next Round of Iran Nuclear Talks

The Road to Baghdad: Preparing for the Next Round of Iran Nuclear Talks

ISTANBUL -- Amid the mostly positive spin following the Iran nuclear talks in Istanbul on Saturday, one person who won’t have long to celebrate is Helga Schmid. The European Union deputy foreign policy chief was charged with the daunting task of coming up with a detailed agenda and substantive work plan to present to the six nations of the P5+1 group -- the United States, United Kingdom, China, France, Russia and Germany -- and Iran when they meet again in Baghdad late next month. International negotiators declared the talks with Iran, the first held in 15 months, a success, noting the more serious and constructive stance adopted by the Iranian delegation compared to previous meetings. However, the marathon talks studiously avoided going into specifics on substance for fear of derailing the accomplishment of getting back to the negotiating table at all.

Schmid’s job over the next five weeks will be to flesh out, in consultation with her Iranian counterpart Ali Bagheri, the substantive plan for how to move forward on the basis of the broad principles agreed to Saturday. First, the parties agreed that Iran, as a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), is obligated to prove that its nuclear program is for purely peaceful energy purposes, as it claims. If it does so, the P5+1 also reiterated, Iran has the right to a civilian nuclear energy program -- including, tacitly, the right to enrich uranium for civil nuclear purposes. The parties also agreed to work toward resolving international concerns about Iran’s nuclear program based on a “step-by-step” process, on a reciprocal basis. That means that if Iran agrees to confidence-building measures, such halting its 20 percent uranium enrichment activities and removing its stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium from Iranian territory, the international community would in turn agree to offer something in return, such as providing nuclear fuel for Iran’s medical reactor or easing a set of sanctions.

But all of those weighty particulars still have to be worked out -- with various diplomatic clocks ticking and some philosophical differences within the P5+1 group remaining on some key issues.

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