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The Geneva Talks: No Breakthrough, Yet much Accomplished

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After three days of serious, high-level talks in Geneva, the P5+1 announced that a deal has yet to be reached on Iran’s nuclear program. Catherine Ashton, the European Union foreign policy chief, said that they would meet again on November 20th at the senior diplomat level, rather than the foreign minister level.




by Kayvon Afshari


Saturday November 9, 2013



 

After three days of serious, high-level talks in Geneva, the P5+1 announced that a deal has yet to be reached on Iran’s nuclear program. Catherine Ashton, the European Union foreign policy chief, said that they would meet again on November 20th at the senior diplomat level, rather than the foreign minister level.

Secretary of State John Kerry tried to stay upbeat, telling journalists, “We came to Geneva to narrow the differences, and I can tell you without any reservations, we made significant progress. It takes time to build confidence between countries that have really been at odds with each other for a long time now,” he said.

Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister in charge of the nuclear negotiations struck a similar tone, saying, “It was natural when we started dealing with the details there could be differences of views. But we are working together and hopeful we will be able to reach agreement when we meet again”

Meanwhile, some sources pointed fingers at the French negotiating team for spoiling a potential deal. Some diplomats told the Guardian Newspaper that they were furious with the role that French FM Laurent Fabius played, and accused him of revealing details of the talks upon his Saturday arrival in Geneva. The French team complained that the draft for a deal was prepared mostly by Iran and the US, and that they did not want to be stampeded into agreement.

What does it mean?


While many observers who were hoping for a breakthrough view these developments as a failure, astute analysts should keep in mind that tremendous progress has been made in a short period of time and that a final resolution will be a long, arduous process. For the first time in years, the two sides are sitting at the table and actively negotiating with one another on the highly-technical details regarding Iran’s nuclear program. In fact, Mr. Kerry had over eight hours of meetings with Mr. Zarif, something quite new in the post-Revolution history of US-Iran relations. It is now becoming normal for American and Iranian senior diplomats to directly engage with one another, something that was not yet the case just two months ago during the United Nations General Assembly. This is a meaningful accomplishment in the long process of normalizing US-Iran relations, and the American Iranian Council congratulates them for it.

The next ten days until the upcoming round of negotiations will give all sides the opportunity to think deeply about what lies ahead. Unfortunately, some detractors may see this as an opportunity to spoil a potential deal. Some US Congressmen may call for further sanctions on Iran in this interim period— an unwise move that would be against the national interest of both the United States and Iran. As Secretary Kerry remarked today when asked if he is worried about further sanctions, “This is an issue of such consequence that it really needs to rise or fall on the merits, not on politics… Each day that you don’t have an agreement, Iran will continue to enrich, Iran will continue to put centrifuges in, Iran will continue its program.” Echoing Secretary Kerry’s sentiment, AIC President Hooshang Amirahmadi said, “The diplomatic channel must remain open. If it were to close, the only option left would be war and bombs, which would be damaging to both sides.”

The AIC has long maintained that the final resolution must be based on two principles: Iran’s inalienable right to domestically produce nuclear power and Iran’s obligation to verify to the International Atomic Energy Agency that there is no military aspect to the program. In return for its transparency, Iran should have sanctions removed and should be encouraged to fully rejoin the world economy. Beyond this broad framework for a resolution, there is much room for negotiators to hammer out the technical details such as the number of centrifuges, level of uranium enrichment, extent of sanctions relief, and so forth.

While most of us were hoping for a breakthrough moment, we should bear in mind that conducting diplomacy in a relationship that has seen 34 years of hostility will produce many disappointments. As realistic supporters of normalizing US-Iran relations, we should manage our expectations, loudly reject the calls for war, and forcefully push for both sides to continue the diplomatic process.
 


This article is part of Insider & Insight, a new AIC program aimed at providing different perspectives and analyses on key developments in US-Iran relations. The commentary and opinions expressed herein are solely those of the author and do not reflect the official position of American Iranian Council.