For the first time in 34 years, top officials from Iran will meet the Americans under the umbrella of the P5+1 talks over Iran's nuclear program. Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif will meet US Secretary of State John Kerry in New York. Will this meeting lead to any meaningful progress on the nuclear issue? We will see after the meeting that is scheduled to begin at 4 pm.
September 26, 2013, 12:17 EDT
After remaining in the deep freeze for nearly 34 years, the first official contact between representatives of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the US will occur today in New York. Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif will meet US Secretary of State John Kerry as well as foreign ministers of the other permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, plus Germany. The European Union Foreign Policy Advisor Catherine Ashton will also be present.
The aim is to “kick start” discussion on Iran's nuclear programme, as Dr Zarif put it. The last serious discussion was in April in Almaty, the Kazakh capital but no progress was made. Today’s meeting is not likely to result in any major breakthroughs either but will probably result in agreement for substantive negotiations next month in Geneva.
Senior diplomats from the P5+1 will meet for one hour starting at noon to coordinate strategy. This is how Western countries usually operate: as a pack of wolves. Diplomats from the four Western countries—the US, Britain, France and Germany—plus Ashton’s advisors will try and persuade China and Russia to go along with their plan. It is likely that the meeting might exceed the one-hour time limit although officials from these countries are very familiar with the issues involved.
Once they have agreed to a common framework on how they want to approach Iran, the bureaucrats will brief the foreign ministers. This is supposed to last for half hour but may last longer.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Zarif will join them all at around 4 pm. While tentatively this meeting is also scheduled to last half hour, it may go longer depending on how the discussions go.
Following Zarif’s meeting with representatives of the P5+1 on Monday, Ashton said she was impressed by the “energy and determination” of the Iranian side but said there were still many outstanding issues. The West has been constantly harping about Iran’s non-existent weapons program.
Why Western officials keep talking about Iran’s non-existent weapons points to their duplicity? As recently as March 2013, the US Intelligence Chief James Clapper told a Senate hearing that there was no evidence that Iran was making the bomb or even that its leaders had made the decision to go nuclear. Yet US President Barack Obama again talked about Iran’s alleged weapons program in his speech to the UN General Assembly.
In his address to the General Assembly, President Hassan Rohani stressed that Iran was not a threat to the world and that Iran will not make the bomb. This is based on religious principle: the Rahbar (Leader) of the Islamic Republic has issued a fatwa against all weapons of mass destruction. That includes nuclear weapons.
The Zarif-Kerry meeting will be the first high level contact between officials of the two countries since 1980. The Americans wanted a handshake between the two presidents on Tuesday but Iran turned it down saying this was too contrived. In an interview with the Washington Post on Wednesday, President Rohani said he wanted to have a specific timeframe in which to resolve the nuclear issue. He mentioned a time period of three to six months.
This was a clear reference to the last time when Iran suspended all uranium enrichment in 2003 but the West kept on dragging the issue for two years without offering anything in return. There will be no repeat of that situation this time. President Rohani also said yesterday that Tehran had nothing to hide, and Zarif said he hoped his counterparts "have the same political will as we do to start serious negotiations with a view to reaching an agreement within the shortest span of time."
Today’s meeting in New York will indicate whether the US and its Western allies have the will to reach a fair deal or they are only interested in getting what they want without conceding Iran’s rights.