Iran offers to talk

As fresh sanctions loom against Iran, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced this week that his government is ready to resume negotiations over Iran’s nuclear programme with a six-nation group of powers.

The brief announcement, reported on state-run Iranian television, appeared to have been timed to precede a meeting on Wednesday in Germany to discuss further sanctions against Iran for failing to comply with United Nations Security Council demands for a suspension of uranium enrichment.

Saeed Jalili, the country’s leading nuclear negotiator, said the ­Iranian government had completed a package of proposals for discussion “regarding all security, political and economic issues, in addition to the nuclear issue”.

But, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, who leads the six-nation group’s negotiations with Tehran, said he had not been informed of the Iranian package. Solana’s Brussels office said: “There are plenty of people here ready to take the call. I’m not aware of any contact or message or transmission.”

“We are cautious, careful, but ever hopeful,” a European diplomat said.

Iran put forward its own proposals in July last year, but these said nothing about suspending enrichment.
Since then, Tehran has insisted that enrichment is non-negotiable.

This week’s meeting in Frankfurt brings together senior diplomats from the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China—a group known as the “E3+3”—to assess joint policy towards Iran.

The US and European delegates are expected to use the meeting to sound out the Russians and Chinese on their attitude towards a new wave of sanctions, possibly targeting Iran’s oil and gas sector, if Tehran refuses to compromise over uranium enrichment before the UN general assembly begins on September 23.

Western diplomats speculated that the Iranian announcement was intended to blunt the drive towards more sanctions and soften Iran’s image prior to the assembly, which Ahmadinejad plans to address, according to an aide.

The pressure on Tehran was heightened last week by a report from the International Atomic Energy Agency, saying that Iran was continuing to install centrifuges at its Natanz uranium enrichment plant and had failed to answer questions about evidence suggesting Iranian scientists had carried out development work on a nuclear warhead. Iran insists its nuclear programme has entirely peaceful aims.

After taking office in January, US President Barack Obama offered Iran talks without preconditions. The offer was backed by the E3+3 group, which met in April and restated its offer of economic aid and technical assistance in return for Iran’s suspension of uranium enrichment.

The E3+3 has also put forward a “freeze for freeze” proposal, under which the international community would stop extending sanctions if Iran stopped expanding its enrichment facility in Natanz. The Iranian response was delayed by the presidential elections in June and their bloody aftermath.

Meanwhile Ahmadinejad’s efforts to consolidate power will come to a head this week when the Iranian Parliament, the Majlis, votes on his Cabinet. He won critical support on the eve of the vote when the Majlis applauded his choice of defence minister, Ahmad Vahidi.

Vahidi faces charges in Argentina for his alleged role in the bombing of a Jewish centre in Buenos Aires in 1994, in which 85 people died. At the time, he was the head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s Quds Force.

His nomination triggered an uproar, but the Majlis signalled its defiance as deputies chanted “death to Israel” when Vahidi addressed the chamber.—

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