Iran and officials from the six major world powers meet on Wednesday for renewed talks on Tehran's disputed nuclear program. But both sides are still finding it difficult to move forward on their positions.
There is cautious optimism that the long-lasting conflict with Iran over its nuclear ambitions could reach a turning point when the next round of talks take place in Baghdad on Wednesday. International Atomic Energy Agency chief Yukiya Amano announced on Tuesday that the nuclear watchdog expected to sign a deal with Iran "soon."
He said "some differences" remained but that Iranian chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili had told him these would not pose an obstacle to an agreement over how IAEA inspectors can investigate suspected military use of Iran's disputed uranium enrichment. Speaking to reporters at Vienna airport after returning from his rare one-day trip to Tehran, Amano described the outcome of his talks with Jalili and other Iranian officials as an "important development." "We understand each other's position better," Amano said.
Oliver Borszik from the German Institute of Global and Area Studies in Hamburg said the talks between Amano and Jalili did give cause for optimism. "This is a positive step that both sides are willing to sit down and talk," Borszik told DW. However, it should not be overvalued, he said.
On Wednesday, the Iraqi capital Baghdad hosts the latest round of talks between Iran and the 5+1 group, consisting of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany. A new report by the London-based think tank Oxford Research Group (ORG) said turning the ongoing negotiations into a comprehensive agreement to end the impasse will not be easy. The group based its report on a series of confidential consultations with individuals close to the decision-making process on the Iranian nuclear file.
"For a deal to be done, negotiations will need to be held without preconditions," ORG said in the report released earlier this week. World powers insist on Iran providing complete transparency of its nuclear program. But according to Borszik, this is not an option.
"Iran's negotiator Jalili does not have a lot of leeway in the negotiations," he said. "These demands are completely unrealistic. Too many things have happened in the past. The mutual allegations are just too massive. Iran does not trust the West." In addition, Iran needed its nuclear weight to substantiate its regional preeminence, Borszik added.
A different approach
The ORG argued that a significantly different negotiating approach was needed to reach any agreement on core issues.
"The impasse will not easily be broken after 30 years of acrimony," said the report's co-author Gabrielle Rifkind, ORG's Middle East Program Director. "But our consultations have clarified that there are sufficient areas of agreement that would allow for a successful negotiation between Iran and the West that would prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear weapon state."
The group identified a number of points that needed to be considered. These include recognition of Iran's rights to enrichment, as well as Iran's reintegration into the regional security architecture.
At the same time, Iran would have to demonstrate to the complete satisfaction of the IAEA that it had forsworn all research and activities pertaining to the weaponization of its nuclear program, ORG said.
"The political endgame has to be agreed from the outset, foregoing short-term tactical gains," the group said. "A 'balance of advantage' has to be created; the negotiations need to be phased and incentivized for all parties to 'win' at each successive phase of the negotiations."
For US President Barack Obama, success in the Iran nuclear conflict would be just the foreign policy result he would need so close to US presidential elections. But the US envoy to the IAEA, Robert Wood, expressed skepticism in a statement following Amano's visit to Tehran. Washington remained "concerned," Wood said.
"We urge Iran to take this opportunity to resolve all outstanding concerns about the nature of its nuclear program," Wood said. "Full and transparent cooperation with the IAEA is the first logical step."
The pressure is on
Despite the positive reception of the talks between Amano and Jalili, it is questionable whether noticeable progress will truly be achieved in Baghdad. The situation is getting more difficult for Iran. International sanctions are taking their toll on the country - and a new round of sanctions is due to take effect on July 1.
"The pressure on Iran is increasing tremendously," Borszik said. "It's a game for Iran to see how far it can go in this nuclear poker. But the limits are slowly being reached." The inflation rate is at 20 percent already, "and the entire population is feeling this."
ORG's Rifkind said that it was important to note with "cautious optimism" that the mood between Iran and the six world powers had shifted. "However, it will take time to create a climate in which the motives of the other are not viewed with suspicion and mistrust, and which is why an additional process of talks to support the official negotiations is vital," Rifkind said.
The international community's eyes will certainly be on the Iraqi capital on Wednesday, even if only to see minor movement. "It's going to be interesting and perhaps a few good signals will be given," Borszik said. But he added that this conflict would only move forward in very small steps.
Author: Sabina Casagrande
Editor: Rob Mudge