Friday, September 27, 2013

Iran, U.S. Launch Nuclear Talks

Wall Street Journal
September 27, 2013
Pg. 1

'Good Start' Seen; Big Hurdles Ahead

By Laurence Norman and Jay Solomon
UNITED NATIONS—The U.S. and Iran held their highest-level talks in 36 years on Thursday, in what some officials present described as a substantial meeting over Tehran's disputed nuclear program that could begin to counter decades of enmity.
In the session, diplomats began the process of trying to establish programs to inspect, verify and curtail Iran's expanding nuclear complex, a process diplomats on both sides warned was arduous and uncertain.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the meeting—which came together as world leaders were gathered at the United Nations—was a "good start." Both sides agreed to hold more detailed discussions on Oct. 15 and 16 in Geneva and discussed the possibility of a one-year time frame with which to resolve the issue.
Secretary of State John Kerry met Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in the U.N. Security Council's consultation chamber. They were joined by the foreign ministers of the U.K., France, Russia, China and Germany.
The meeting, lasting nearly an hour, was aimed at starting a new round of talks over Iran's nuclear program. The West charges that Tehran is trying to produce atomic weapons, but Iran's new president, Hasan Rouhani, has said repeatedly in recent days that he intends to show his country's nuclear program is peaceful.
Despite some progress, both Messrs. Kerry and Rouhani sounded notes of caution, and Israelis expressed anxiety over the developments leading up to the meeting, fearing that a new Iranian charm offensive would mislead Western powers into allowing a weapons program to continue unabated.
Mr. Kerry—who also held a half-hour direct meeting with Mr. Zarif that U.S. officials called substantive—said he was pleased Mr. Zarif came to the talks. The U.S. diplomat said his Iranian counterpart's presentation was "very different in tone and very different in the vision that he held out with respect to the possibilities of the future."
However, Mr. Kerry said one meeting didn't answer questions the international community has had and that much work remains. "So we will engage in that work obviously and we hope very much that we will get concrete results."
Mr. Zarif said the meetings were "very substantive, businesslike." Mr. Zarif said the West will need to ease sanctions on Iran as talks move ahead and "in the endgame, there has to be a total lifting of all sanctions…We hope to be able to move in that direction within a short span of time."
He reiterated that the West must respect Iran's right to possess nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.
European officials, including Mr. Hague and the European Union's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, lauded the meeting.
"This week, a window of opportunity has opened," German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told reporters on his way out of the meeting. However, he cautioned that it is action, not words, that will count as negotiations go forward.
The talks Thursday were highly anticipated and came after officials in both countries had spent weeks testing waters both privately and publicly to see if it would be possible to move relations that seized up in 1979, following Iran's Islamic revolution. The last high-level bilateral meeting came on New Year's Eve in 1977 between President Jimmy Carter and the late shah of Iran.
It was clear to all sides that there would be complications. Mr. Rouhani has said he has the authority to negotiate. But he raised a long-standing concern among Middle Eastern rulers by calling Thursday for Israel to join the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Israel is presumed to have nuclear weapons, but has never confirmed that it does.
"Almost four decades of international efforts to establish a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East have regrettably failed," Mr. Rouhani said, speaking for the movement of nonaligned countries at a disarmament meeting. "Israel, the only nonparty to the Nonproliferation Treaty in this region, should join thereto without any further delay."
Israeli officials viewed the prospects of talks between Iran and U.N. powers skeptically, regarding Mr. Rouhani as an advocate of nuclear development and warning the West against being cheated. Yuval Steinitz, Israel's minister of intelligence and international affairs, said in an interview that there were no signs that Mr. Rouhani was committed to significantly scaling back Tehran's nuclear work.
Instead, the minister said Iran's leadership has launched a diplomatic charm offensive aimed at bettering ties with the U.S. and Europe and reducing Western sanctions, while simultaneously maintaining the heart of Iran's nuclear program.
"The rhetoric is different. That's true," Mr. Steinitz said on the sidelines of the annual United Nations General Assembly. "But the substance is almost the same" as Iran's previous leadership.
Mr. Rouhani has defended Iran's nuclear power program and in his U.N. speech chastised the U.S. for Mideast entanglements and use of military force. But he also said he opposed development of nuclear weapons and offered to assure the world of his country's intentions.
Some Israelis saw his stance as a payoff of years of painstaking economic sanctions put into place by the U.S. and its allies.
"In my eyes, contrary to many critics of Obama, I do not believe that the speeches delivered by the Iranians would have been delivered without economic sanctions," Israeli President Shimon Peres said in an interview this week.
Baroness Ashton said an earlier offer by the U.S., U.K. France, Russia, China and Germany that would ease some of the sanctions on Iran in exchange for a scaling back of its nuclear activities remains on the table. However, she said the six powers also were open to any proposals from Iran for resolving the nuclear standoff.
Baroness Ashton said a period of 12 months seemed a realistic time frame for a deal and some "serious" implementation by Iran.
Mr. Zarif said the group laid out parameters to reach a deal on the future of Iran's nuclear program within one year. He said it was crucial during these early meetings for Tehran and the international community to come to a consensus on what capabilities Iran will be able to have at that time.
"We agreed to jump start the process so that we can move forward," Mr. Zarif told a gathering of the Asia Society following his meeting with Mr. Kerry. "We need to agree to the parameters of the endgame for Iran's nuclear program in one year."
In Iran, Mr. Rouhani's performance while attending the U.N. meeting in New York has been applauded as re-establishing Iran as a global player and countering hostility from the West.
Mr. Rouhani's predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, relished provoking and demonizing the West in his visits to the U.N., and other delegates to the world body often walked out of the U.N. during his speeches.
--Joe Lauria contributed to this article.

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