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What's Cooking?


SAID KHALOOZADEH | Issue Dated: November 17, 2013, New Delhi
Tags : nuclear | Washington | Dr. Hassan Rouhani | |

Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, is in the midst of a diplomatic flurry these days. She is not only in charge of the common foreign policy of the 28-member European bloc, but also heads the representatives of the P5+1 group of world powers in their nuclear negotiations with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Ashton has been holding such a sensitive post since a few years ago and she seems to be more aware of the details of negotiations with Iran than any other Western diplomat. Just on the night before the new round of talks (scheduled for October 15-16) got underway between the representatives of the P5+1 and Iran's delegation in Geneva, Ashton had a private meeting with the Iranian Foreign Minister Dr. Mohammad Javad Zarif at Iran's representative office in Geneva. It seems that this very important meeting has taken place just before the beginning of the new round of talks between Iran and the P5+1 group on October 15, so that, both sides will have an opportunity for the last coordination and also to discuss their points of agreement and disagreement before the sensitive negotiations actually start in Geneva. In fact, both sides are greatly concerned about the future trend of the negotiations and the outlook of achieving a possible general agreement on Iran's nuclear issue. A day before her meeting with Zarif, Ashton had met with the US Secretary of State John Kerry to discuss the matter. She has also talked on phone with the foreign ministers of other member states of the P5+1 group. During the past few days, Dr. Zarif has also called Ashton frequently to discuss the best ways of going ahead with the forthcoming meeting in Geneva. All analysts are unanimous that this new round of talks, which practically started a while ago and reached their peak in a meeting between the Iranian foreign minister and his counterparts from the member states of the P5+1 group in New York, will be totally different from all the previous negotiations held between the two parties. The reason is that both sides seem to be bent on reaching a tangible result through negotiations this time and, thus, put a possible end to one of the most complicated and the most protracted political cases the international community has so far dealt with.

The statements made by Catherine Ashton about the quality of new talks over Iran's nuclear energy program, scheduled for October 15-16, were widely covered by political and media circles around the world. In a recent address at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, Ashton said, “I think in any thinking about that, those who are making the law here [in the United States], or those in control of the negotiations from the US end -- which of course is Secretary Kerry and his team -- will have to think about how to make sure that it's the best possible atmosphere.” She further stressed, “I would like to get to Geneva with the best possible atmosphere to really have these negotiations. And that means in all sorts of ways we need to show willingness and good faith to sit down and talk, and expect the same in return.”

There are a few highlights in the published remarks of Ashton, which need serious attention and are very important. First of all, she has emphasized on the need to have a positive atmosphere surrounding the negotiations. In fact, she has stressed that the existence of such a positive political and media atmosphere is very important and a requisite for talks to reach a solid result.

Secondly, as the official in charge of the European Union’s foreign and security policy who will be leading the P5+1 negotiating team in October 15-16 talks with Iran, she has emphasized that “…those who are making the law here [in the United States], or those in control of the negotiations from the US end -- which of course is Secretary Kerry and his team -- will have to think about how to make sure that it's the best possible atmosphere.” In fact, Ashton is indirectly expressing her concern about obstructionist efforts by certain groups and circles that do not want these negotiations to reach a result. Therefore, she has issued a clear warning to prevent such a negative atmosphere from being formed by any of the parties that are involved in nuclear negotiations with Iran. This warning has been especially aimed at powerful and opposition members in the US House of Representatives and the Senate, on the one hand, and those groups inside Iran which are also opposed to negotiations with the P5+1, on the other hand.

The third point which should be highlighted in Ashton’s remarks is her emphasis on the interests and “good faith” of the Western countries for the progress of the new round of talks. In fact, she wants that “good faith” to be comprehensive and inclusive of all aspects of the negotiations. Ashton has also implied that she expects the same from the Iranian side which is a sign of her endeavor to see the new negotiations proceed until they reach a final result.

The fourth point is about the schedule of the negotiations. Ashton has expressed doubt that an agreement between the two sides could be achieved in a short period of time, like a 6-12-month period. She has noted that “technical work of dismantling parts of the nuclear program and verifying compliance will take time” and is not likely to be accomplished over a short period of time. It seems that a certain degree of disagreement exists between the European countries and the United States in this regard. The Americans are more concerned about the political aspects of the negotiations and attach the highest degree of significance to achievement of a political solution. On the contrary, the European countries put more emphasis on the technical side of a possible agreement. It seems that if the two sides managed to forge a meaningful agreement within a clear time frame, they would be also able to reach an agreement over the period of time during which their agreement should be implemented.

On the other hand, expectations surrounding the nuclear talks in Geneva on October 15-16 are very high. A reason for such high expectations is the very important political atmosphere, which has come about in the past few weeks following the election of Dr. Hassan Rouhani as the new president of Iran. Another significant factor which has fostered such expectations is high-level and numerous important meetings held between Iranian and foreign diplomats, especially on the sidelines of a recent trip to New York by the Iranian president and his accompanying diplomatic delegation [to take part in the annual session of the UN General Assembly]. Of special importance here was the meeting between the Iranian foreign minister and his counterparts from the member states of the P5+1 group, which was also held on the sidelines of the General Assembly session. Such diplomatic exchanges and the new round of nuclear talks are of utmost importance to all parties involved in nuclear negotiations because they can actually determine the fate of one of the most important international political cases with which the world has been dealing during the past years. Therefore, all major players in these talks are doing their best to prevent their remarks, statements and possible obstructionist efforts by their opponents from overshadowing the positive atmosphere that currently surrounds the nuclear talks.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017