World powers ‘receptive’ to Iran’s nuclear proposal
EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton, left, walks next to Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, right, during a photo opportunity prior to the start of two days of closed-door nuclear talks Tuesday, October 15, 2013, at the United Nations offices in Geneva, Switzerland. AP photo
Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi said many things were new in the plan. “We think that the proposal we have made has the capacity to make a breakthrough,” he told reporters.
The minister, speaking to reporters after Iran made a PowerPoint presentation at the start of a two-day meeting with the six powers in Geneva, said the atmosphere in the discussions had been “positive.” He gave no details of the proposals, describing them as “confidential.” “It’s a completely realistic, balanced and logical plan.”
In subsequent comments made only to Iranian media, Araqchi said any final agreement should eliminate all sanctions on Iran and enable it to continue to enrich uranium, according to the ISNA news agency. But he did not go into detail on what Iran might be willing to offer in return, apart from transparency and monitoring by the U.N. nuclear watchdog. He also said a religious decree by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei banning nuclear weapons should be “used as the most important confidence-building step.”
A senior U.S. administration official said in Geneva that detail was the key and that any easing of sanctions would be “targeted, proportional to what Iran puts on the table.”
“We are quite ready to move. But it depends what they put on the table... We are hopeful, but that has to be tested with concrete, verifiable actions,” the official said.
Michael Mann, spokesman for European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who leads the negotiations on behalf of world powers, said the Iranian presentation had been “very useful,” without elaborating. “We have seen some positive mood music coming out of Tehran,” Mann said. “But of course the most important thing is that they actually follow it up with concrete proposals that address our concerns.”
Western diplomats had earlier called on Iran to put forward concrete proposals to allay their concerns about the Islamic state’s nuclear energy program, which the West fears may aimed at developing a nuclear weapons capability.
One immediate change from previous talks was the choice of language. Mann told reporters they were being held in English, unlike previous rounds under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, new President Hassan Rouhani’s hard-line predecessor, where Persian translation was provided. No final deal is expected at the two-day session. However, if the Iranians succeed in building trust, the talks could be the launching pad for a deal that has proven elusive since negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program began in 2003.
The six powers – the United States, France, Britain, Russia, China and Germany – want Iran to curb sensitive nuclear uranium enrichment. Iran wants them to ease tough energy and banking sanctions that have severely restricted its vital oil exports.
On the eve of the meeting, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said the plan contained three steps that could settle the long-running nuclear standoff “within a year,” but did not elaborate.
Zarif, traveling with his personal doctor as he battles back pain, has said he hopes the talks will sketch out a “roadmap” for higher-level negotiations.
The Geneva talks, the first since relative moderate Rouhani was elected Iran’s president in June on a platform to ease its international isolation, is seen as the best chance for years to defuse a festering standoff over Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Iran has already drawn its red lines for the talks, saying it will not accept any demand to suspend uranium enrichment or ship out stockpiles of purified material.
A first meeting between Zarif and his counterparts from the six powers took place last month on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, accompanied by a landmark two-way meeting with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.