Iran, world powers trade offers in nuclear talks

World powers pressing Iran to scale back its nuclear program offered a new batch of incentives in Baghdad. Tehran, which is seeking sanctions relief, made a counter-proposal – but whether all involved will see eye to eye remains unclear.

Iran has criticized the Western proposal for having too many demands while offering little in return. And some have suggested that even after the first day of negotiations between Iran and the 5+1 group in Baghdad, the rhetoric coming from Western capitals is far too belligerent to facilitate an agreement.

The 5+1 incentives reportedly offered Tehran access to aircraft parts and the possible suspension of an EU insurance ban on ships carrying Iranian crude.  But the offer fell short of easing the international sanctions.

The world powers want Iran to suspend its 20% uranium enrichment program, which they see as vital to the negotiations process.
At the conclusion of Wednesday's talks, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the proposals are "of interest to Iran."

However, as some Iranian officials note, "A possible swap of uranium enriched by Iran for fuel isn't very interesting for us because we are already producing our own fuel."

And according to political analyst Chris Bambery, this stalemate could reverse the negotiations progress. 

RT:The West doesn't want to bargain with Iran over sanctions, and wants its supposed nuclear sites disclosed first. Do you think Tehran's arguments will go ignored?

Chris Bambery: I think there are two things going on here. First of all, we’re, as I understand it, the talks have actually resumed this evening in Baghdad. Originally, they were supposed to have ended for the day, and it is interesting that the talks are continuing. There is an offer on the ground from the 5+1, the five members of the Security Council plus Germany, about cutting the uranium enrichment program from 20% down to 5%.  The Iranians have not rejected that, and indeed have said it’s an offer they can talk about. Informally, some sources in Iran have said that this could be the basis for a deal for the quid pro quo sanctions being removed. And in the meantime we’ve seen Iranian currency go back up against the dollar in an expectation that there is going to be a deal.  

I don’t think there is going to be a deal in the next few hours. I think it is going to be a lengthy process. First of all in America it is the election year, so Obama wants to be seen to be driving a hard bargain. And secondly, Tehran does not need to be rushed into a deal, because the sanctions, even though there’re quite taught, aren’t biting because China, India and even Italy are taking up the slag. So there is that discussion going on, which hopefully, for all those who want to see a peaceful solution will come as refreshing. 

At the same time we have this rhetoric, coming out of Western capitals, which seems to belay the fact that there are any talks going on at all. I mean, in Tel Aviv you had Ehud Barak, the Israeli defense minister, having said that the talks should really not be occurring, that there should be no deal, that you can’t even trust the Iranians. That the offer of an inspection does not mean anything whatsoever. But perhaps you might say that the Israelis would say that.  

From US Congress we have belligerent voices. This morning you open your newspaper in Britain and you discover that Britain has plans to intervene in case of a war between Israel and Iran. Now, I don’t think that those plans would mean that the Royal Navy is going to impose an arms embargo around Israel or the RAF is going to impose a no-fly zone over Tel Aviv. What the intervention is, is going to help the Americans keep the Strait of Hormuz open.  

So there is two things going on here: their rhetoric, which is still warlike and belligerent towards Iran; and these discussions going on in Baghdad, which on the surface are going on quite well.  

RTYou’ve said that the sanctions are not biting. New EU sanctions come into effect this July, plus the US Senate has backed further sanctions on Iran. Is that all they can do to try to force Iran’s hand here?

CB: No. They’re also trying to have a military buildup in the Persian Gulf. We’re seeing a growing number of American warships and American personnel, plus some Brits and France, tagging along behind as usual. Iran, of course, is virtually surrounded by American bases, not just the American presence in Afghanistan. So they’re ratcheting up the military presence in there; it associated as well over tensions in Syria and in Lebanon. So there’s a game going on here – which is a very dangerous game. 

A military buildup in the Gulf is particularly dangerous for those who recall at the end of the 1980s, the Iraq-Iran war, Americans intervened on the side of Iraq when they seemed to be losing the war and shot down an Iranian civilian airliner with over 280 dead. And Iranians remember that. And today in fact, Ahmadinejad was remembering chemical attacks by Iraq on Iran during that war, pointing out that Western governments including America provided the bases for the weapons of mass destruction which were used by Saddam Hussein’s regime, saying that the people responsible should be actually brought to book.  

So the ratcheting up the military tension plus sanctions is creating a dangerous situation. But America and the European Union, on their own, simply can’t embargo the Iranian oil. The Chinese, the Indians and the Russians can pick up the slack here. 

RT: How broad a base of support is there amongst ordinary Iranians for a peaceful enrichment nuclear program?

CB: This has now become the touchstone for Iranian nationalism. Because essentially the West is telling the Iranians "you can’t do that," although interestingly the West in the 1970s was encouraging the Iranian nuclear program. The Americans, the Brits and the Germans were queuing up to sell them the technology. But it was a different story then.  

But I think this has become the touchstone for Iranian nationalism, and people within Iran have long memories of Western intervention in Iran – the support for the Shah in the 1953 coup which overthrew a democratically-elected government of Mosaddegh to impose the Shah’s dictatorial rule, the support that they gave to torture the secret police.  

All this is remembered in Iran and as I’ve said has become the touchstone for Iranian nationalism. And many people who don’t support Ahmadinejad or Khamenei, the supreme ruler, would take a position on this because this is an issue of national pride. And I do not think the West really understands just how far that goes, and how deep the record of people’s memory and understanding of Western involvement in Iran is, which stocks resentment of the West treating Iran as some little child, refusing to accept the repeated promises and statements that this is a peaceful nuclear program.

I actually oppose all nuclear programs but I think this is ironic speaking in London. Tonight we have a British government telling Iran, "you cannot have a nuclear program," which is replacing all its trident so-called defense system and is expanding its nuclear program.  So if it's okay for the Brits and other European and North Americans, why not for Iran? There are double standards here.