Tuesday, September 15, 2009

World Powers to Hold Discussion with Iran

CNI Staff Writer kyle@cnionline.org

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and Iranian chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili have agreed to open talks between the six world powers and Iran on October 1. The meeting will bring together representatives of the UK, China, Russia, France, the US, and Germany with top officials from Tehran in a location yet to be decided.

The news came less than a week after Iran submitted a new package of proposals to representatives of the UK, China, France, Russia, the US, and Germany. While the proposal outlined several political, economic, and security-related issues, it did not specifically mention Iran’s uranium enrichment program. A spokesman for the US State Department stressed that the blueprint for the talks does “not address our nuclear concerns,” but said that the US was ready to “test Iran’s willingness to engage.”

Also on Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that now is the time for more “effective” actions against Iran including “harsh sanctions.” While these comments did appear to indicate that Israel has not given up on international diplomacy regarding Iran’s nuclear program, wide speculation remains that Israel could carry out airstrikes against Iranian nuclear facilities.

Iran has insisted that its enrichment program is solely for civilian energy production and not for weapons development and declared the issue closed. Over the weekend, however, Iranian foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki said, “[S]hould conditions be ripe, there is a possibility of talks about the nuclear issue.” The presence of Jalili at the talks also bolsters the potential for discussion on that topic.

In a report released last month, the IAEA noted encouraging signs in Iran’s nuclear program. Representatives of the UN nuclear watchdog have gained greater access to some officials and facilities, though more transparency is needed. The same report also called on Tehran to provide evidence to counter “credible” allegations and intelligence that Iran has explored non-peaceful uses for its nuclear program.

When the report was release, Israel accused the IAEA and its director-general Mohamed ElBaradei of covering up incriminating evidence of Iran’s nuclear ambitions. ElBaradei hit back, saying the “threat has been hyped” and declaring that the facts do not support the idea that Iran is close to developing an atomic weapon. A 2007 US National Intelligence Estimate also concluded that Iran halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003. Israel remains the only country in the Middle East with nuclear weapons, though that capability remains undeclared and Israel has not signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty.