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Analysts Say Nuclear Talks Should Continue Despite Sabre-Rattling

WASHINGTON, Jul 5 2012 (IPS) - The one agreement that talks between Iran and the P5+1 – the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany – produced after a “technical meeting” in Istanbul was a decision to schedule more talks.

But even while the United States and Iran engage in threatening behaviour, Iran-focused experts say that continuing meetings is the first step to advancing the diplomatic process.

“Diplomacy doesn’t happen at a twitter speed,” Daryl Kimball, the executive director of the nuclear non-proliferation-focused Arms Control Association, told IPS. “After these meetings we finally saw the two sides putting down specific proposals on the nuclear issue, and there are significant gaps as (EU foreign affairs chief) Catherine Ashton said, but there are also areas of overlap.”

To move forward, Kimball said three things need to be done: “Further details are needed about the proposals, they need to sort out the sequencing issues and both sides need to be a little more creative than they’ve been up until this point.”

Kimball also noted that there is still a “good potential” for an initial confidence-building deal around the contentious issue of Iran’s production of 20 percent-enriched uranium because the Iranians have said that they are willing to explore that issue.

“We don’t have forever, but we do still have time for a diplomatic solution,” he said, adding that it’s important to remember that both sides are likely strategic about what they provide to the press about the actual details of the negotiations.

Starting on Tuesday and lasting into early Wednesday morning, the low-level talks, which were scheduled after three high-level negotiations in Istanbul, Baghdad and Moscow, took place against a backdrop of military-related posturing by long-time foes, Iran and the United States.

On Jul. 2 – one day after the EU oil ban officially went into effect – Iran showcased medium-range ballistic missiles that it claimed are capable of hitting U.S. bases and Israel during a three-day long testing exercise called the “Great Prophet 7”.

Then on Jul. 3 the Iranian Mehr News Agency reported that 220 Iranian MPs had issued a statement condemning the European Union embargo on Iranian oil as an “act of hostility”.

Iran, which insists that its nuclear programme is not weapons-oriented, reiterated that it has an “inalienable right to peaceful nuclear technology” in accordance with the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and that it “does not succumb to the hegemonistic policies of the major powers.”

Also on Jul. 3 the state-sponsored IRNA news agency reported that 120 Iranian members of parliament had signed a petition urging for the closure of the vital oil supply route, the Strait of Hormuz, in response to the EU oil ban.

State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said during a press briefing that any Iranian attempts to obstruct passage through the Strait would be “inconsistent with international law and not recognised by the United States” but did not elaborate about how the U.S. would respond or whether it considered Iran’s statements unusual.

“Iran has made these threats many times, and we always make the same statements in response,” she said.

On Jul. 3 the New York Times also reported that while a recent U.S. military buildup in the Persian Gulf was “purely defensive”, it was also a “message” to Iran that it should refrain from attempting to close the Strait of Hormuz.

An anonymous senior state department official told the Times that Iranian attempts to close the vital supply route or confront the U.S. Navy would get them “on the bottom of the gulf”.

According to Abbas Maleki, a former Iranian deputy foreign minister and energy policy-focused fellow at MIT, ongoing posturing by the U.S. and Iran will have an impact on the diplomatic process and could lead to a military conflict. Maleki said in an interview with IPS that “the more the U.S. uses a coercive policy against Iran, the more Iran will resist and react accordingly.”

“Both sides have to try to stay in self-possessed situation,” said Maleki, who was part of the Iranian negotiating that was focused on ending the Iran-Iraq war.

But hawkish Washington-based analysts have used the lack of tangible results to cast doubt on the legitimacy of continued negotiations. On Jul. 2, Jamie Fly, Lee Smith and William Kristol applauded a bipartisan letter by 44 senators calling on the president to cease diplomatic efforts and ramp up sanctions and the military option if the Iranians don’t submit to three U.S. demands. Fly, Smith and Kristol also reiterated calls urging Congress to “seriously explore” an “Authorization of Military Force against Iran”.

But according to Kimball, anybody who is already calling the process a failure is “highly irresponsible and naïve because that allows Iran to clear a pathway to continue to produce 20 percent enriched uranium” and take steps to further increase their uranium enrichment capacity.

“We lose absolutely nothing by continuing to pursue diplomacy and a potential deal with Iran,” he said.

Ali Vaez of the International Crisis Group also noted that it’s too soon to call the diplomatic process a failure in an op-ed for Al Monitor. “The issue at the crux of Iran’s nuclear crisis is politics, not physics” he wrote, and while there is very little wiggle room in this realm, there is “room for maneuver in the technical realm.”

Maleki says that for the next round of talks, “the ball is in the P5+1 court.” While Iran has long-stated that the complete cessation of uranium enrichment is a deal-breaker, it is “prepared to make compromises, including halting enrichment beyond five percent, and allowing inclusive inspections.”

“But such compromises on the Iranian side need to be matched by P5+1, by, for example, reducing sanctions,” he said.

*Jasmin Ramsey edits IPS News’s U.S. foreign policy blog,

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