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The Third Geneva P5+1 – Iran Talks: Day One

The P5+1-Iran nuclear negotiations are complex and have many moving parts, from the negotiations themselves, to the interests, positions, and actions of states with a big stake but no direct role such as Israel and Saudi Arabia, to the domestic politics of all of actors involved. IranPolitik’s day by day analysis of the Third Geneva Talks gives a dynamic and multi-faceted picture of the negotiations on these crucial days. we summarize the day’s events, look at what some of the main actors who were not present at the talks had to say, and skim through a select number of interesting commentary by experts and journalists.

For an overview of the negotiations, see our primer.

THE TALKS

The first day of this round of P5+1-Iran nuclear negotiations mainly consisted of a number of multilateral and bilateral meetings within and between the P5+1 (the United Nations Security Council permanent five members plus Germany) and Iran. European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton first chaired a meeting of the P5+1 political directors, which was followed by a bilateral lunch meeting between her and and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, described by her spokesperson Michael Mann as “positive”. At 18h00 Geneva time, the P5+1 and Iran held a first plenary session at the United Nations, followed in the evening by a number of bilateral meetings.

While the overall atmosphere of the first day appears to have been positive, most of it seems to have been spent rebuilding the positive atmosphere and trust between the P5+1 and Iran. These had been somewhat diminished during the last round of talks in Geneva from 07-10 November, in part because of French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius insistence on inclusion of the IR-40 (Arak) Heavy Water Reactor in the first phase of negotiations as well as his breaking of diplomatic protocol.

The Guardian’s diplomatic editor Julian Borger noted on Twitter that “Kerry + other formins have an option and hotel rooms to fly in on Friday, if the talks succeed.”

MAIN ACTORS

Khamenei rallies Basij commanders, calls Israel “rabid dog of the region”

At speech to a mass audience of Basij commanders on the first day of the talks, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei reaffirmed his commitment to Iran’s nuclear rights and said that showing flexibility in negotiations with the P5+1 did not mean abandoning the goal of attaining nuclear rights:

“We used the terminology of ‘heroic flexibility’; some interpreted this to mean retreating from the ideals and goals of the Islamic regime; some of our enemies have used this as an instrument for accusing the Islamic regime of retreating from its own principles; this was wrong, this was a misunderstanding. Heroic flexibility means a masterful maneuver for achieving the goal.”

He also used very harsh terminology against Israel, calling it the “rabid dog of the region”, and recited in detail the transgressions of the “arrogant regime” (a term which can encompass much of the West, especially the United States) against the rest of the world.

One of the main question is why Khamenei has made such a rhetorically charged speech on the first day of the Third Geneva Talks. One obvious answer seems to be to rally his conservative domestic constituency, but to what end? Could he be preparing them for a negotiated settlement to the nuclear saga which some in his own camp may find too hard to swallow?

Rouhani vows to continue pursuing “constructive engagement”, but defend Iran’s nuclear right

On the first day of talks, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani declared that his administration would act on his campaign promise of “constructive engagement” with the international community, but affirmed that: “the Islamic Republic is not prepared to back down on its absolute rights and national interests, to retreat from the red line drawn by the regime of the Islamic Republic and the Iranian nation.” Speaking on Iran’s negotiating posture he said that:

“Our basis for these negotiations was that the framework of the final agreement at the end of negotiations must be determined from the outset, but unfortunately some of the [P5+1] excuse-making and excessive demands did not allow the negotiations to reach their successful end.”

“We have always said that for negotiations, logic and reason must be on the negotiating table, gunpowder can never be effective on the negotiating table. Our people have always stood up and resisted against the intimidations of others, and they shall continue to stand up and resist. However at the same time, always in the framework of logic, they have been prepared for compromise and now they are ready for compromise. God willing we hope that in these negotiations, on the basis of international rules and in logical and non-discriminating frameworks, they [the P5+1] shall bend, because our nation shall not accept the discrimination, as the rights that exist are equal for all.”

From Russia without love: Bibi tweets for a harder line against Iran

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu put out a number of tweets on Wednesday, highlighting what he believed to be the gravity of the Iranian threat and calling for a dismantling of key components of the Iranian nuclear program, including uranium enrichment and the Arak facility:

“For Israel, the biggest threat against us and against global security is Iran’s effort to arm itself with nuclear weapons. 1/4

Israel’s approach is that the international community needs to insist on its positions as expressed in UN Security Council resolutions. 2/4

That is: halt all enrichment, to remove all enriched material, to dismantle the centrifuges and to stop building the facility in Arak. 3/4

We want a peaceful, diplomatic solution; everyone prefers this over any other solution. But this must be a genuine solution. 4/4”

The tweets came in the midst a visit to Russia, where Netanyahu met with President Vladimir Putin to discuss convince him to take a harder to take a harder nuclear stance against Iran in negotiations. While it is difficult to discern the outcome of the meeting for certain, Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who is part of Netanyahu’s security cabinet, expressed doubt that it had impacted Russia’s position in the talks:

“Russia and China were the ones that, until now, did not take action to increase sanctions. It was very hard to enlist them to impose sanctions on Iran…Therefore it is hard for me to see how, suddenly today, they could be the ones to demand that the world be firmer with the Iranians.”

EXPERT COMMENTARY

Former U.S. nat-sec advisers Brzezinski and Scowcroft send letter to Congress backing Iran Talks

Former National Security Advisors Zbigniew Brzezinski and Brent Scowcroft sent a letter on Wednesday to both houses of the United States Congress supporting The Barack Obama administration’s efforts at reaching a negotiated solution to the Iranian nuclear saga.

The letter in part read: “We call on all Americans and the US Congress to stand firmly with the President in the difficult but historic negotiations with Iran…Should the United States fail to take this historic opportunity, we risk failing to achieve our non-proliferation goal and losing the support of allies and friends while increasing the probability of war.”

The letter argued that the “apparent commitment of the new government of Iran to reverse course on its nuclear activities needs to be tested” and that “Such an agreement would advance the national security of the United States, Israel, and other partners in the region.”Critically, the U.S. foreign policy heavyweights warned that “Additional sanctions now against Iran with the view to extracting even more concessions in the negotiations will risk undermining or even shutting down the negotiations.”

The Brzezinski-Scowcroft letter is by no means the first initiative of its kind by former senior U.S. foreign policy and national security officials backing a negotiated settlement to the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program. Just this month a bipartisan group of 79 former U.S. military and diplomatic leaders, intelligence officials, policymakers, and senior security experts indicated their support for the ongoing negotiations.

Tom Friedman: “Let’s Make a Deal”

New York Times Op-Ed columnist and conscience of establishment Democrats in the United States Thomas Friedman chimed in on the P5+1-Iran nuclear negotiations from Abu Dhabi, where he was attending a Gulf Security conference.

While acknowledging that American, French, Israeli, and Arab Gulf suspicion of Iran was natural – he alleged that “Iran has lied and cheated its way to the precipice of building a bomb” – he argued that a deal was better than no deal because the latter option would lead to war at a time when the United States and its North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) allies did not have the appetite for uncertain foreign military adventures. A deal on the other, he suggested, would be good for all parties involved, even if the Israelis and Gulf Arabs did not recognize it.

Interestingly, he was also quick to connect resistance to a deal with Iran in the United States to Israel, the Gulf Arabs, and their respective allies in America:

“Never have I seen Israel and America’s core Arab allies working more in concert to stymie a major foreign policy initiative of a sitting U.S. president, and never have I seen more lawmakers — Democrats and Republicans — more willing to take Israel’s side against their own president’s…I’m certain this comes less from any careful consideration of the facts and more from a growing tendency by many American lawmakers to do whatever the Israel lobby asks them to do in order to garner Jewish votes and campaign donations.”

Harvard’s Gary Samore declares that interim deal “better than no deal”

Harvard University Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs executive director of research and President of United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) Gary Samore in a short interview declared that the greatest challenge facing the United States in the P5+1-Iran negotiations was getting Iran to agree to the offer that the P5+1 had put on the table. He said that an interim deal with Iran that achieves modest progress would be “better than no deal” because under the latter scenario, the Iranian nuclear program would likely become more advanced. He concluded by saying that he did not foresee the current regime in Iran giving up what he alleged was its “desire for nuclear weapons”, and that all the United States could hope to do was limit Iran’s current program and hope that a future regime would be more willing to give up the program, though he said this was uncertain.

UANI, the organization he presides over, has been a leading advocate of economic sanctions against Iran as good means of forcing the Middle Eastern country to scale back or halt its controversial nuclear program.

[For those interested in economic sanctions, the following series of NYT Room for Debate series on “Sanctions Successes and Failures” may be interesting.]