Iran nuclear talks: Hitting the ‘snooze’ button on the alarm clock of confrontation

Tony Karon writes: Staying within the “clock is ticking” metaphor favored by the Obama Administration when discussing diplomacy with Iran, Saturday’s talks in Istanbul could be said to have hit the snooze button. The doomsday alarm could yet sound, but not for a while yet. Iran and Western powers agreed Saturday to hold another round of talks—in Baghdad, of all places, at Iran’s request—on May 23. That means a proverbial “diplomatic window” (another rhetorical favorite of Administration officials) will remain open at least for the next five weeks.

And there are indications from Istanbul that the parties are working towards a formula for keeping the window open a lot longer. “We have agreed that the Non-Proliferation Treaty [NPT] forms a key basis for what must be serious engagement, to ensure all the obligations under the NPT are met by Iran while fully respecting Iran’s right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy,” said the West’s chief negotiator, EU foreign policy chief Dame Catherine Ashton, at the conclusion of Saturday’s talks. “We want now to move to a sustained process of serious dialogue, where we can take urgent practical steps to build confidence and lead on to compliance by Iran with all its international obligations. In our efforts to do so, we will be guided by the principle of the step-by-step approach and reciprocity.”

Despite no breakthroughs or even substantial discussion in Istanbul over specific proposals, there’s more to Ashton’s comments than pablum. Successful negotiations require a common framework in which each side is able to see its core concerns addressed, even if their understandings of that common framework are different.

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