Iran nuclear talks Q&A: West considers proposal
World powers and Iran have had their "most substantive" and "detailed" nuclear talks ever
THE sense of guarded optimisim that marked the start of two days of negotiations between Western powers and Iran over the Arab state's nuclear programme appears to have been rewarded. Commentators were hopeful the election of Iran's new leader, Hassan Rouhani - a relative moderate - would improve the chances of a breakthrough in Geneva and the signs are certainly hopeful. In a joint statement, Baroness Ashton and Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif called the talks "substantive and forward-looking". International negotiators are "carefully considering" an Iranian proposal and further talks will be held on 7 and 8 November.
Here are some key questions about the ongoing talks and what they might achieve:
What are the talks about?
The central question is whether Iran's secretive nuclear programme is "for peaceful purposes only", The BBC reports. Many nations – Israel in particular – have contended that the programme is being used to develop nuclear weapons, a charge Iran denies. It insists its nuclear facilities are used only for the purposes of energy generation and medical research. Rouhani, who was elected on 15 June, has said he wants the issue to be resolved within "six months".
So, what does the West want?
Western negotiators have demanded that Iran halt the "production and stockpiling" of uranium enriched to 20 per cent. That's the level at which it is "a step away" from achieving a nuclear weapons capability. The West also wants Iran to send some of its stockpiles abroad and close the Fordo production site near Qom where "most of the higher-grade enrichment work is done," the BBC reports.
Who is attending the talks?
The West is represented by the so-called P5+1 group, made up of Britain, China, France, Russia and the US plus Germany. Iran's negotiators are lead by Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, although the BBC believes "much of the actual negotiating" will be carried out by his deputy, Abbas Araqchi. The BBC's James Reynolds describes Zarif as "an energetic, US-educated diplomat who communicates at length via Facebook and who ended a recent Twitter post with three exclamation marks".
Is this the first time Iran has sat down with P5+1?
No, it isn't. Iran has been talking to the Western organisation since 2006. It wants UN sanctions imposed over its nuclear programme to be lifted.
So, what's different this time?
In a word: Rouhani. His appointment has "raised hopes that a deal can be made", says the BBC. Evidence that he's taking a new approach continues to emerge – yesterday he called for "more freedoms in universities, where many professors and students have been sidelined over their political activities," reports AFP.
Rouhani does not have an entirely free hand, however. Last week Zarif admitted that he and the President had been "rebuked" by Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei over their diplomatic overtures to the US. The relationship between Rouhani, the reformer, and Khamenei, the hardliner, is certain to be fraught at times. At present, "it seems [Khamenei] is trying to avoid undermining the newly elected Rouhani while still avoiding alienating hardliners," the website antiwar.com reports.
Is Iran likely to agree to the West's demands?
The signs aren't good. Araqchi said on Sunday that Iran would not relinquish its stockpiles of enriched uranium or allow "even a gram" to leave the country.
So, a resolution is unlikely?
Very unlikely. No-one is expecting a breakthrough in Geneva, says the BBC. But Zarif hopes a "roadmap" can be drawn up that will pave the way more talks and more concrete results. ·