MOSCOW — Diplomats from six nations and Iran arrived in Moscow ahead of a new round of nuclear talks Monday that some American diplomats consider pivotal to determining whether or not to pursue the current incremental approach when it comes to negotiations over Iran's nuclear program.
“Tomorrow’s E3+3 talks in Moscow are important meetings,” a senior Western official told journalists in Moscow Sunday. ”Iran should come prepared to negotiate seriously and take concrete steps to address the unified proposal laid out” in Baghdad, where the last round of talks were held in May. ”Iran has a right to peaceful nuclear energy under the [Non-Proliferation Treaty], but it must first meet its international obligations... If Iran remains unwilling to take the opportunities these talks present, it will face continuing and intensified pressure and isolation.
Western diplomats said Sunday they have asked Iran to respond to a detailed proposal put forward by the six-nation negotiating group at the meeting last month in Baghdad. That package called for Iran to halt its production of 20 percent enriched uranium, ship out its 20 percent stockpile, and stop operations at Fordow, a highly fortified enrichment facility built into a mountain near Qom. In return, Iran would get spare parts for old US civilian airliners and fuel and safety upgrades for a reactor that makes medical isotopes.
But some American advisers say if Iran does not show a willingness in Moscow to seriously engage on that interim proposal, then the US should consider pivoting to a different, higher stakes, approach that they say would clarify Iran’s intentions.
“We have to see what comes out of Moscow,” Dennis Ross, former senior Obama White House strategist and consultant to the National Security Council, told Al-Monitor in a telephone interview Sunday. “If Moscow produces something that exceeds expectations, we should try this track. If not, then we have to prepare to pivot, with the US at that point taking the lead to coordinate.”
The current approach, focused on a short-term confidence building proposal that seeks to address Iran’s higher enrichment activities, “had a certain logic,” Ross said. But if it doesn’t start showing results, “given the other pressures the US is under, the Iranians keep enriching, and accumulating, Israeli patience wears very thin. If we want diplomacy to have any success, the current track is unlikely do so. We should offer something more of an end-game proposal.”
“The Obama administration is considering putting forward a broader proposal to Iran, rather than the more incremental one presented at a meeting last month in Baghdad,” Al-Monitor reported June 7th. “Those arguing in favor of the ‘go big’ approach say their thinking has been influenced by two recent diplomatic encounters with Iran that cast doubt on the viability of an incremental deal, as well as by Israeli concerns over any interim deal being the last one reached with Iran for the next few years, officials said.”
A number of other Iran analysts, including Andrew Parasiliti of the International Institute for Strategic Studies-US and David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security, have urged both sides to put forward an “end game” that can provide confidence that concessions now will lead to a resolution of the crisis.
But key US allies are not yet prepared to consider shifting from the current step-by-step approach.
“I don’t think it makes much sense to undercut our own proposal by attacking it,” one western diplomat told Al-Monitor Sunday on condition of anonymity.
“The E3+3 remains committed to serious negotiations based on a step-by-step approach and reciprocity, leading to a final agreement on the Iranian nuclear issue,” lead international negotiator, European foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, said in a statement Sunday, following a call with the talks’ formal host, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Hopes for the Moscow talks have yo-yoed since a difficult meeting in Baghdad last month, when Iran gave a chilly reception to the latest multilateral offer.
An Iranian source, who spoke on condition that he not be named, said Sunday that Iran was optimistic that progress could be made in Moscow, with another meeting clinching the deal in Beijing. Iran considers Russia and China to be the most sympathetic to its views among the P5+1 – the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, or the E3+3, as Europeans call it.
Laura Rozen writes the Back Channel news-blog for Al-Monitor. She previously served as senior foreign policy reporter for Politico and Yahoo News, and wrote the “Cable” blog for Foreign Policy magazine. She is based in Washington, D.C. You can follow her on Twitter at @lrozen
Barbara Slavin contributed reporting from Washington.