Vermont Public Radio comment for Thursday October 17th, 2013
VPR227 INTRO: With all the media focus on the deadlock in Washington in recent days, a very important meeting in Geneva dealing with Iran’s nuclear program got little attention. Commentator and veteran ABC News diplomatic correspondent Barrie Dunsmore brings us up to date.
TEXT: There have been many meetings between Iran and a group of six world powers that includes the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany, over international concerns about Iran’s nuclear program.
In the past, these meetings have gone nowhere. But this latest one seems different. For one thing, there was a rare joint statement issued, describing the discussions as “substantive” and “forward looking.” The talks will resume on November 7th and 8th.
While the two sides have agreed for now to keep details of the negotiations confidential, we did learn that new Iranian positions were contained in an hour long PowerPoint presentation, which Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif delivered - in English. US officials are not saying if Iran had broken new ground or if differences had been narrowed. But one senior State Department official did say, “For the first time, we had very detailed technical discussions.”
That’s good - but the issues nevertheless are daunting. Iran wants the right to continue reprocessing uranium- for peaceful purposes it says. And it wants the economic sanctions which have crippled its economy to be lifted. The world powers want Iran to prove its claim that it is not trying to make nuclear weapons, by virtually throwing open the doors to international inspectors, to all of its vast nuclear facilities. A big part of the negotiations will deal with timing- especially who and what comes first.
This was the first full negotiating session since the moderate cleric Hassan Rouhani was elected Iran’s president in June. Rouhani has since been on, what critics call a “charm offensive,” During his visit to the United Nations last month he certainly came across as moderate and was rewarded with a fifteen minute telephone call from President Barack Obama. That was the first time the presidents of the US and Iran had actually talked to each other in 34 years.
One analyst compared Obama’s call to Rouhani to Richard Nixon’s visit to China in 1972 which ended decades of hostility between the two nations. Perhaps.
But at that time neither President Nixon nor Chinese Chairman Mao had to worry about significant domestic opposition to changing the nature of the Chinese American relationship.
That is not the case with either presidents Obama or Rouhani who both face very tough opposition to concessions on their home fronts. The powerful Revolutionary Guards Corps publicly insists that Iran must have nuclear weapons. For his part, President Obama has to contend with Israel whose leaders say a nuclear armed Iran is an existential threat. That’s one reason why many in Congress, including senior Democratic leaders, are adamantly opposed to easing any sanctions on Iran until it accedes to virtually every American demand. And- Congress has the power to keep key sanctions in place.
This could lead to serious problems down the road – bearing in mind that if the Iranian nuclear issue can’t be resolved diplomatically, the only other option appears to be a major Middle East War.
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