Iran has resumed talks with western powers Tuesday in Geneva, after a six-month hiatus, for the first time since the election of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif kicked off the two-day meeting, for the first time expected to be held primarily in English, with a presentation entitled "Closing an unnecessary crisis: Opening new horizons." This new round of negotiations over Iran's disputed nuclear development program has been met with "cautious optimism," and the Iranian delegation said the proposals to scale back its efforts at uranium enrichment it presented to the permanent five members of the U.N. Security Council -- the United States, Britain, France, China, and Russia -- plus Germany received a "good" first reaction. On the eve of the talks, a U.S. official noted that there could be potential sanctions relief for Iran if Tehran takes swift measures to address concerns about its nuclear program. However, Western diplomats said it is unclear whether Iran's proposals will be sufficient. Officials cautioned that a breakthrough would not happen overnight. Zarif stated, "I am hopeful that by Wednesday we can reach agreement on a roadmap to find a path towards resolution."
Western officials increased pressure on Syrian opposition groups to allow a team of inspectors from the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) access to chemical weapons sites in territory under their control. On Monday, Syria became a full member of the OPCW, formally consenting to the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has appointed Sigrid Kaag of The Netherlands to lead the joint U.N. and OPCW mission tasked with eliminating Syria's chemical weapons arsenal. Meanwhile, a car bombing in a rebel held town in the northern Idlib Province killed between 12 and 20 people on Monday. There have been several reports of fighting Tuesday, the first day of the Muslim holiday Eid al-Adha. Syrian warplanes have reportedly bombed rebel held regions in Hama province and the Damascus suburbs, and a bomb reportedly hit a mosque in the capital's al-Tadmon district. Additionally, opposition fighters have fired rockets and mortar rounds at three neighborhoods in Damascus, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Three workers from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) are still being held in Syria after six staff members and a Syrian Arab Red Crescent volunteer were abducted Sunday. The four who were released Monday are "safe and sound" according to the ICRC.
Arguments & Analysis
‘Looking to diplomacy with Iran' (William Luers and Thomas Pickering, Reuters)
"If Iran proposes an ambitious plan at Geneva, the P5+1 must be ready to respond in kind. Yet the U.S. political system seems unprepared, psychologically or politically, for that step. Can Washington find a solution that will progressively begin to relieve the most crippling sanctions in tandem with Iran's movement toward a more transparent and limited nuclear program? Technically, the answer is yes. But politically, Congress may not be ready.
This will require patience and political space in Tehran and Washington -- as well as bold early action in Geneva from both sides, to demonstrate commitment to progress.
The United States has led the effort to use sanctions to pressure Iran's leaders to engage seriously and agree to specific controls on their nuclear program. If Iran is now willing to take concrete and verifiable steps to do so, the rest of the world will expect Washington to lead the process to sanctions relief.
If it does not do so, international support for the sanctions could unravel -- leaving the United States without a nuclear deal and without its strongest tool for leverage.
This meeting could be the most important moment in the U.S.-Iranian relationship since 1979. The opportunity must be seized and tested."
‘Don't expect miracles in Iran nuclear talks' (Ali Vaez, CNN)
"Seldom has there been so much anticipation of a breakthrough in talks over Iran's nuclear crisis than is the case for the negotiations starting Tuesday in Geneva. But inflated hopes are dangerous, and the sobering reality of tough negotiations could quickly dash hopes and even derail diplomacy.
The reality is that despite the recent election of a new Iranian administration, one that has been keen to stress that a breakthrough could be just around the corner, it would be naïve to expect a decade-old impasse to be resolved in just two days. After all, Iran's nuclear crisis is one of the most complex issues in international politics today. And the last time President Hassan Rouhani and his current foreign minister, Javad Zarif, were Iran's nuclear negotiators -- back in 2003 to 2005 -- there were two years of talks over a crisis that was then barely a year old.
A deal today would be even harder to imagine. In 2003, Iran was struggling to assemble 164 centrifuges. Today, it has more than 18,000. Back then, Iran had one enrichment facility, one type of centrifuge, no fissile material stockpile and sought to enrich uranium to 5 percent. Now, it has two enrichment facilities, several types of advanced centrifuges, tons of fissile material and is enriching both to 5 and 20 percent levels. These advancements have come at a hefty price. Today, there are numerous sanctions backed by the United States and international community."
--Mary Casey & Joshua Haber
FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images
The Middle East Channel offers unique analysis and insights on this diverse and vital region of more than 400 million.