Fred Kaplan writes: Readers glancing away from the debt ceiling showdown may have noticed the hopeful headlines on some other unlikely negotiations in Geneva over the fate of Iran’s nuclear program. Two points are missing from most of the stories about these talks. First, the chances for a truly historic breakthrough are pretty good — which, at this stage in talks of such magnitude, is astonishing. Second, the Iranians’ main demands—at least what we know of them — are pretty reasonable.
Toward the end of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s ground-shaking trip to New York last month, it was announced that his foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, would meet Tuesday and Wednesday in Geneva with delegates from the P5+1 states — the five nuclear powers (the United States, Russia, China, France, and Britain) plus Germany — with the goal of finishing an accord within a year.
Many saw this timetable as way too ambitious, and given how talks of this sort typically proceed, it was. But these talks—the first round anyway — turned out to be far from typical. Rather than recite boilerplate principles and opening gambits, Zarif presented an hourlong PowerPoint briefing — in English, so there would be no misunderstandings — laying out a path for negotiations and a description of a possible settlement, replete with technical detail.
Not only that, but after the first day of meetings, the U.S. and Iranian delegations broke away for an hourlong bilateral session, which American officials described as “useful” in clearing up ambiguities. After the second day, another meeting was set for Nov. 7–8. Some said it would be at the “ministerial” level, which, if true, would mean Secretary of State John Kerry would head the American delegation. A U.S. secretary of state doesn’t usually become so visibly involved until much closer to the end of a negotiation, suggesting that maybe we’re closer to the end than anyone could have imagined.
This is remarkably fast work for any set of nations negotiating any issue — much less for nations that haven’t had diplomatic relations in 34 years, and on an issue that ranks among the globe’s most perilous and contentious. [Continue reading…]
Barbara Slavin adds: Iran has put forward a new proposal to resolve the nuclear crisis that includes a freeze on production of 20% enriched uranium, a pledge to convert its stockpile to fuel rods and an agreement to relinquish spent fuel for a still-to-be completed heavy water reactor, according to an Iranian source who has proven reliable in the past.
The offers, combined with increased scrutiny by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), are meant to provide confidence that Iran could not quickly break out of its nuclear obligations and make nuclear weapons.
The Iranian, who asked not to be identified because the negotiations that resumed Tuesday, Oct. 16, in Geneva are supposed to be confidential, said the proposal presented by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif included two stages, each to last a maximum six months.
In the first stage, the source said, Iran would stop producing 20% enriched uranium and “try to convert the stock” it has amassed to fuel rods for the Tehran Research Reactor, an old American-origin facility that produces medical isotopes.
Iran has already converted or set aside the bulk of the more than 370 kilograms [815 pounds] of uranium it has enriched to 20% — which is easy to further enrich to weapons grade — but it isn’t clear whether Iranians have the know-how to produce workable fuel rods. [Continue reading…]