October 2, 2009

A cursory look at the balance sheet after yesterday’s Geneva talks

After one day’s meeting, a mere seven and a half hours long, the world woke up today to reports of “surprisingly productive” talks between Iran and the P5+1 yesterday in Geneva.
Let’s take a very brief look at what’s come out so far:

  • No breakdown: The absolute bare minimum of success yesterday was the absence of a complete and total breakdown of the talks.  The Obama administration had set the expectations sufficiently low that this really was the big question mark: whether the Iran delegation would flip over the table and storm out like a teenager who has been told to clean its room.  (They did not.)
  • Access to the Qom facility: The Iranians announced a day before the talks even began that they were committed to opening up the newly-revealed Qom enrichment facility to IAEA inspectors.  This very obviously would have been the first matter the West would have wanted to discuss, but Iran went ahead and granted access before the negotiations even began.  Inspections are promised to begin prior to the second round of talks.
  • Second round of talks scheduled: Based on a willingness on all sides to engage in good faith, a second round of talks has been scheduled to take place in the next couple of weeks.  Both sides have expressed their commitment to talks with each other.
  • Historic US-Iran bilateral meeting: The first ever high-level bilateral diplomacy took place between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran yesterday.  For about 30 minutes, Undersecretary of State Burns met in private with Saeed Jalili.

After the talks finished, it was clear what each side hoped to gain from further discussions:

  • Iran wants a presidential summit meeting between Ahmadinejad and Obama (don’t hold your breath); and
  • The West wants Iran to hand over its enriched uranium stockpile to a third country to be turned into fuel for a reactor

Then, in another surprise move, the parties announced late yesterday that Iran agreed to the West’s offer to turn over its uranium stockpile to RussiaJulian Borger explains why this is so significant:

Western officials here say that to restock the TRR, Iran would have to send out up to 1200 kg of LEU. That’s about three-quarters of what they’ve got, and it would be out of the country for a year. When it came back it would be in the form of fuel rods, so it could not be turned into weapons grade material in a quick breakout scenario.

Given all that has happened with Iran over the last few months, I can honestly say that, for once, it’s nice to have been pleasantly surprised.

Back to top