Swiss lab finds very high levels of Polonium in Arafat’s bones and in burial shroud + soil

After nearly a year of waiting, following the November 2012 exhumation (for testing) of the remains of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat from his mausoleum in the Ramallah Muqata’a, Al-Jazeera reported today that a Swiss forensics laboratory in Lausanne found very very high levels of Polonium 210 in Arafat’s bones, in his burial shroud, and in the soil in which his body was buried.

Al-Jazeera report on Swiss lab test results finding Polonium in Yasser Arafat's remains
Al-Jazeera report on Swiss lab testing on Arafat’s remains

The Polonium found in Arafat’s rib + hip bones was many times higher than normal [18 to 36 times, “depending on the literature”], Al-Jazeera reported.  The Polonium levels in the soil in which Arafat’s remains were buried were also 18 times higher than normal…

The Swiss report says “tests on specimens taken from bone fragments + tissue scraped from Arafat’s decayed corpse + shroud  “moderately support the proposition that [Arafat’s] death was the consequence of poisoning with polonium-210”.   Al-Jazeera’s Clayton Swisher said that “on a scale of confidence of 1 to 6 [with 6 being strongly confident], scientists say the data supports poisoning at level 5″…

The test results come almost exactly nine years after Arafat’s death on 11 November 2004. His final illness began suddenly late on the night of 12-to-13 October. Arafat had been trapped by Israeli forces for the previous two years in two rooms in the Muqata’a Presidential Headquarters [a former British-Mandate era Government Quarters which served as an Israeli prison during the First Palestinian Intifada], confined in unhealthy circumstances in close quarters and under stress, sleeping under a table with the shell-damaged building crumbling around him.

Poisoning was suspected early on, at least by Arafat’s nephew Nasser al-Qidwa, who was Palestinian Ambassador to the UN in New York and subsequently Palestinian Foreign Minister. But polonium was not considered, in 2004. It was not until 2006 [and it was also in November] that defected Russian agent Alexander Litvinenko, living in London, was quickly diagnosed [with British Government help] with Polonium poisoning, during a reported-and-publicized three-week agony in a hospital before he died.

Clayton Swisher from Al-Jazeera’s Investigations Unit produced the “What Killed Arafat?” report in early July 2012 here that revealed the Swiss lab’s initial surprise finding of Polonium after testing Arafat’s clothing and led to the decision to exhume Arafat’s remains for forensic testing. Swisher just broke the “Killing Arafat” story this week [Wednesday evening] on Al-Jazeera, here.

There’s also a Youtube, which Swisher called a “news package” [a full documentary will apparently air on Sunday]:

Clayton Swisher @claytonswisher 6 Nov – Watch news package for @aljazeera on #killingArafat Swiss report here

In Swisher’s Youtube “news package”, Arafat’s daughter Zahwa says she’s relieved, but wants “to know who killed him and the motive + ambitions behind it”…

The full 108-page Swiss report, in English, is also posted here on Al-Jazeera’s website, and:

Clayton Swisher @claytonswisher — Read and decide: Swiss forensic report on Arafat’s death via @AJEnglish #killingarafat

No autopsy was performed at the time of Arafat’s death in Percy Military Hospital outside Paris, France in early November 2004. Just before his death, Suha had called Al-Jazeera Arabic’s Ramallah correspondent Walid al-Omary, and she was given on-air access to make emotional accusations that Palestinian leaders on their way to Arafat’s bedside wanted to kill him “and he’s still alive”.

Suha told Clayton Swisher in 2012 that at the time she was so upset she didn’t even think of an autopsy, it didn’t even occur to her.

(She later said that the decision was not in her hands, as the body was given, in Paris, to the “Palestinian Authority”… )

The Swiss forensic team from the University Hospital Center in Lausanne reportedly handed over its report in Geneva to Suha Arafat’s lawyers and Palestinian .officials on Tuesday.

Tawfik Tirawi, named by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to head a Committee of Inquiry into Arafat’s death, seems to have been in Geneva for this event, along with the Jordanian forensics expert Dr. Abdullah al-Bashir, a member of the Committee.  This was reported by the official Palestinian news agency WAFA, here. Dr. Al-Bashir was originally engaged earlier, in late 2010, by the Yasser Arafat Foundation headed by Arafat’s nephew Nasser al-Qidwa, who has long suspected that Arafat was poisoned. Dr. Al-Bashir initially contacted French hospital authorities, in writing in 2011, without much success.

Continue reading Swiss lab finds very high levels of Polonium in Arafat’s bones and in burial shroud + soil

And in another world…a world away

An annual event at the pastoral tranquility of the UN office in Geneva — or, as it is known locally, the Palais des Nations, which is former home and site of the sad story of the League of Nations — the sheep-grazing of the lawns in October-November.

The photo below was taken by the dashing Jean-Marc Ferre, one of the world’s best photographers.

Photo by Jean-Marc Ferre for UN

A series of Jean-Marc’s shots of this annual sheep-grazing moment, in the lovely autumnal scenery [more suited to landscape painters than to anyone or anything else]  is now posted on Flikr here.

The UN photo caption describes this as an “environmentally-friendly way to mow the lawns” — but it’s more than that. It also fertilizes the lawns. And, on top of all that, it’s an income-earning activity, as the sheep-owners pay for this privilege.

Another shot of the sheep grazing the lawn at the Palais des Nations in Geneva - by Jean Marc Ferre

But – wait a minute — are these photos also timed to coincide with the Muslim feast of Eid al-Adha, which starts Sunday early morning? [And in which pious Muslims slaughter sheep to commemorate Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his son Isaac…  though it could be argued that the Divine intervention would be better commemorated by abstaining from sacrificing lambs today…]

Leaving that thought aside, and moving to another, here’s one more of Jean-Marc Ferre’s shots of the sheep on the lawn on the palatial grounds of the UN Office in Geneva … where the Palais des Nations was built in the 1920s, after the First World War, to house the headquarters of the League of Nations which became deadlocked and moribund in the mid-1930s, in the lead-up to the Second World War…

Sheep on lawn in front of Palais des Nations - UN photo by Jean Marc Ferre

I could say something about the sheep in the park, and the sheep inside the buildings who have done so many dishonorable and disgraceful things … but I’ll refrain for the moment — in honor of the [very very few] good memories of the rather bad place I had the misfortune of working for some 14 years [it is impossible to overstate the harm that was done here], and in honor of these lovely photos taken on a beautiful fall day, and above all in honor of the photographer, Jean-Marc Ferre.

Iran talks to be in Geneva on 6 + 7 December

The Swiss Foreign Ministry has announced that it will host the talks on Iran’s nuclear program in Geneva on 6 + 7 December.

The Swiss Government refers to these talks in the European fashion: E3+3, rather than P5+1.

The Swiss announcement said that “The E3+3 delegation will be led by the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton. The Secretary of the Iranian Supreme National Security Council, Saeed Jalili, will head the Iranian delegation.
Switzerland also organized the last talks that took place in Geneva on 1 October 2009. Switzerland has always advocated a diplomatic
solution to the Iranian nuclear question”. Switzerland also hosted Iran talks in Geneva in July 2007.

Quote of the day – 12th in our series: Clinton says Iran can enrich uranium at "some future date", IF…

It has been reported that in an interview with the BBC’s Kim Ghattas, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said “that Iran could be permitted to maintain its own domestic uranium enrichment program, for civilian purposes, if and when it proves to the international community that it can be trusted to do so. ‘We’ve told them that they are entitled to the peaceful use of civil nuclear energy, but they haven’t yet restored the confidence of the international community to the extent where the international community would feel comfortable allowing them to enrich’ … They can enrich uranium at some future date once they have demonstrated that they can do so in a responsible manner in accordance with international obligations’.”

This is reported here.

This is interesting in and of itself – but all the more so because, as Meir Javendar points out here, “Early next week, Iran and the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) are scheduled to meet to discuss Iran’s nuclear programme”.

When I attended one round of these Iran and P5+1 talks in Geneva in July 2007, I discovered that the European members had changed
their nametags to read “Iran and 3 + 3″ talks — meaning, Iran plus three European countries [Britain, France and Germany], and three others [USA, Russia and China]…

The UN Security Council has imposed three sets of sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran [basically, for not inspiring confidence in its nuclear program] and the U.S. and others have imposed an additional set of unilateral economic sanctions.

UPDATE: The full transcript of the Clinton interview with Kim Ghattas has just arrived by email from the U.S. State Department. Here is the full quote, plus more of interest:

[Kim Ghattas of the BBC] QUESTION: A follow-up question about Iran. On Monday in Geneva, Washington and its partners in the P-5+1 will hold talks with Iran about its nuclear program. You’ve tried this before. You thought it would work last time. Why do you think it will be different now?

SECRETARY CLINTON:” Because I think that Iran has realized since the last meeting, which was in October 2009, that they’re not going to escape pressure from the international community. They were quite surprised to have the entire world decide to impose sanctions. They didn’t think that would happen to them. They’ve been surprised that the United States, European Union, Japan, and others have imposed additional sanctions, and that the vast majority of the nations in the world are honoring those sanctions. We know that they’re having an effect inside Iran. So I think Iran comes to the table with a much more sober assessment of what isolation means, what the impact on their economy has been, and we hope that will cause them to have the kind of serious negotiation we’re seeking”.

QUESTION: But a quick follow-up, if I may. Why not cut to the chase and tell Iran that it can enrich its own uranium on its own territory, since everybody knows that this what is probably the end result.

SECRETARY CLINTON: “Well, we told them that they are entitled to the peaceful use of civil nuclear energy. But they haven’t yet restored the confidence of the international community, to the extent where the international community would feel comfortable allowing them to enrich, which is why with the Bushehr plant that Russia has helped build, Russia is not letting them enrich. Russia is taking the spent fuel out and reprocessing. Iran has to come to the table recognizing that they have lost the confidence of even longtime supporters and allies or those who believed them, took them at face value. They can do this, and then they can enrich uranium at some future date once they have demonstrated that they can do so in a responsible manner in accordance with international obligations”.

Kofi Annan's think tank in Geneva declared bankrupt

“An international humanitarian think-tank presided by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan is closing down after it plunged deep into debt, Swiss authorities said Wednesday.  The Geneva-based Global Humanitarian Forum, which was partly financed by the Swiss government, was launched in 2007 in Geneva under Swiss impetus to bring together the humanitarian community, governments and private companies.  The Swiss Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the non-profit foundation was ‘over-indebted and must halt its activities’.  The Swiss government agreed to pay 1.75 million Swiss francs (1.2 million euros, 1.6 million dollars) to foot half of the debt and the cost of redundancy for about a dozen staff”… Thanks to a tip, this news was located here.

Jerusalem Palestinian families come out against building on their ancestors graves

Members of prominent Palestinian families from Jerusalem have come out today in protest against plans to build a Museum of Tolerance on top of part of the ancient Mamilla Cemetery where their ancestors are buried. Until now, much of the opposition to the building plan came from Israeli and Jewish rights activists — including Danny Seidemann, a lawyer who founded Ir-Amim (which works for an equitably shared Jerusalem), and Gershon Baskin, co-Director of the Israeli Palestinian Center for Research and Information (IPCRI), who have argued, in part, that the construction offended their Jewish beliefs and values, and was against Jewish religious and moral teachings. They have tried, through the Israeli court system, and through appeals directed mainly to Israeli and international Jewish public opinion, to block the construction of the Museum of Tolerance on the Mamilla Cemetary in Jerusalem. Excavations began on the site in 2005. It is now surrounded by a high white metal fence, with security cameras posted all around, and armed guards in navy blue shirts and trousers, wearing black sunglasses. The initiative being taken by the Palestinian families today is reaching out to a larger audience, and includes filing a petition today in Geneva to various United Nations Human Rights bodies, and to the Paris-based United Nations Educational, Cultural and Scientific Organization (UNESCO), which is responsible for protecting the world’s cultural heritage. The petition is also being addressed to the Swiss Government, which is the repository for the Geneva Conventions.

Mamilla Cemetary -

More information is available on the website of the New-York-based Center for Constitutional Rights, here. There is also a website for the 60 Palestinian families from Jerusalem who have launched this campaign, here.  This Mamilla Campaign website says that “Sixty individual petitioners who have attested that their ancestors … are interred in Mamilla (Ma’man Allah) Cemetery … including the following Jerusalem notables: * Abdullah Ali Koloti * Ahmad Agha Duzdar * Al-Amir Esa Bin Muhamad al-Hakari * Bader el-Din Zain * Ghaleb Jawad Ismail ‘Aref Musa Taher Abdul-Samad Ben Abdulatif Husseini * Jamal Eddine Al-Imam * Shams al-Din Muhammad ibn `Abdullah al-Dayri  al-Khalidi al-`Absi * Omar Saleh Zain * Qadi Burhan al-Din Ibn Nusayba * Qadi Mahmoud al-Khalidi * Salah El-Rahal al-Sadi * Shaykh Ahmad Ali Dajani * Shaykh Said Abdullah Ansari * TajuDin Abul Wafa Mohammad Ben ‘AlauDin ‘Ali Ben AbulWafa Al-Badri al-Husseini * Uthman Suleiman al-Kurdi * Yousef and Ali Beks Hallak * Yousef H.A. al-Kurd  Individual Petitioners (at 1 February 2010).” According to the Mamilla Campaign website, the petitioners also include Adnan Husseini, who is the Palestinian Authority’s appointed Governor of Jerusalem; AbdulQader Husseini, the son of the late Faisal Husseini, who was the PLO representative in Jerusalem and a member of the Palestinian team incorporated in the Jordanian delegation to the Madrid Peace Conference; Rafiq Husseini, an advisor to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas; Huda Imam, directrice of the Al-Quds University Center located in the Souk al-Qattanin in the Old City of East Jerusalem; and Sari Nusseibeh, head of Al-Quds University in Abu Dis. In a press conference held in Jerusalem this morning, moderated by Huda Imam, several of the signatories briefly spoke, according to Adnan Abdel Razek (a former UN staff member who is an expert on issues related to Palestinian property seized after the 1948 war), who attended:  He said that Asem Khalidi noted that a number of men from Saleh ed-Din’s army, who liberated Jerusalem from the Crusaders, were buried in the Mamilla Cemetary.  Hajj Toufiq Abu Zuhra, Director (“al-Qayam”) of the Mamilla Waqf explained his efforts to block the excavations in the Israeli Supreme Court, and he reported that he recently found wood shavings scattered on other areas of the Mamilla Cemetary, which he and others from the Mamilla Waqf went to clean up — he said he feared this indicated that other areas of the cemetary would be obliterated and claimed for other purposes.  And Adnan Husseini called what was happening immoral and illegal. Much of the momentum behind today’s initiative comes from Palestinians who grew up and who still live in the diaspora, many in the United States. Press conferences are being held in Jerusalem, Geneva, and Los Angeles, home of the Simon Wiesenthal Center which is moving forward with its plans to build the Museum of Tolerance on top of the Mamilla Cemetary. Continue reading Jerusalem Palestinian families come out against building on their ancestors graves

Iran pledges to cooperate fully and immediately with IAEA – Obama says this must be within two weeks

After talks in Genthod, in the Geneva countryside today, the AP reported, “senior EU envoy Javier Solana said Iran had pledged to open its newly revealed uranium enrichment plant to International Atomic Energy Agency inspection soon … Solana said Iran had pledged to ‘cooperate fully and immediately with the IAEA’, and said he expected Tehran to invite agency inspectors looking for signs of covert nuclear weapons activity to visit ‘in the next couple of weeks’. At the United Nations, the Iranian Foreign Minister confirmed the plant would be opened to inspectors. ‘The letter from the IAEA to the Islamic Republic of Iran, in response to the information we have provided in this respect, and with regard to the new facilities that are under construction, indicate the fact that the agency has appreciated Iran’s move and dialogue for arranging a visit by the IAEA official is under way’, Manouchehr Mottaki said”. The AP report can be read in full here.

Then, for some reason, U.S. President Barack Obama decided to talk somewhat tough, according to a report published in the Jerusalem Post: “Now that Iran has agreed to open its newly disclosed nuclear enrichment facility to international inspectors, it ‘must grant unfettered access’ to those inspectors within two weeks, Obama said. ‘Talk is no substitute for action’, Obama said at the White House after talks ended earlier in the day in Switzerland. ‘Our patience is not unlimited’. Obama said that if Iran follows through with concrete steps ‘there is a path to a better relationship’ with the United States and the international community. He said that Iran’s promise during the talks to transfer some of its low-enriched uranium to another country for processing is an example of such a step. The uranium would be used in a medical-research reactor”. This JPost report can be read in full here.

Iran goes to Geneva Talks Two — to discuss buying enriched uranium abroad, a big concession

It looks like a major concession. Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad said his country will go to the second round of talks in Geneva with European and American diplomats — to discuss buying enriched uranium from a third party to run its nuclear reactor in Tehran.

Proposals have been made previously that Iran should buy all its enriched uranium abroad and import it — one option would have been through Russia. Iran has made counter-offers to produce — IN IRAN — and to sell abroad to other customers — enriched uranium produced under a consortium of regional or international countries.

But it has never previously offered to rely on an outside supplier.

Continue reading Iran goes to Geneva Talks Two — to discuss buying enriched uranium abroad, a big concession

Talks with Iran in Geneva

Some people actually expected a breakthrough.

One reason was the presence of the “number three” ranking U.S. State Department official, William Burns — which the State Department spokespersons explained as “underscoring the U.S. commitment to diplomacy”, showing that the U.S. “is commited to finding a diplomatic solution”. The State Department spokespersons also said, however, that it was a “one-time deal”, an “idea that we generated”. It was a “signal”, the American spokespersons said, “but it’s not a change of substance”. It “serves to clarify the choices that the Iranian regime faces” — although “they [already] understand very clearly the cost to them for their continued defiance of the international community”.

Because “the central pivotoal point at the heart of our [U.S.] policy is that the Iranians [must, or should] take the step of suspending their uranium enrichment program. That is at the heart of the two-track policy”.

So, it was hard to see how the diplomats could stretch to make a bridge between the positions of the Americans, who continue to say that they will not negotiate with Iran unless it freezes its nuclear program (which it already did once, in 2004, without any positive results), and Iran’s position that they have a right to a peaceful national nuclear program.

Iran has repeatedly denied that it would ever develop nuclear weapons.

UPDATE: The Washington Post and the Observer newspaper in Britain have both now called the talks “inconclusive”.

UPDATE: U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice said to journalists on board her plane en route to Abu Dhabi on Monday that “I think the fact that we went may have been a bit surprising to the Iranians, and they didn’t react in a way that gave anyone any confidence in them. And so what it did was to serve to reinforce the unity of the P-5+1. And I’m not in the least surprised that the Iranians weren’t serious. They haven’t been serious to this point, and I’m not in the least surprised. But we gave them an opportunity, and they have thus far demonstrated again why there are three Security Council resolutions that are isolating Iran and making their isolation deeper and deeper … We expected to hear an answer from the Iranians, but as has been the case so many times with the Iranians, what came through was not serious. And so Javier Solana decided to say to them two weeks. I think they had a little conversation about it among themselves at the P-5+1. Seems fine to me. But I thought that Solana was absolutely firm and clear that it’s time for the Iranians to give a serious answer. And from all reporting, the unity of the P-5+1 has never been greater than it was in that meeting or at this moment. And I do believe that it is, in part, because the United States showed its seriousness in backing this proposal with Bill’s physical presence. But it was also a very strong message to the Iranians that they can’t go and stall and make small talk and talk about culture, that they have to make a decision. And I think it’s also very clear that there are going to be consequences if they don’t”.

Rice was asked by a journalist: “Is that what they did? They talked about Iran’s wonder – culture? Is that what you heard back?” She replied: “I understand that it was, at times, meandering”. Was that a charitable expression, or an euphemism, she was asked, and she replied “I’ll just leave it at meandering”.

In comments that may satisfy our colleague from Iranian TV who was at the talks in Geneva on Saturday, Rice said, in answer to a question asking for “a bit of background on how you came to send Bill Burns to Geneva? Did you approach the President? And what did Dick Cheney say about this?”, that
SECRETARY RICE: “Well, again, I’m not going to talk about internal deliberations. But this was something that everybody understood the need for and thought that, as a tactic, it was fine. And this is a tactic. We – the strategy is to get Iran to accept the package or to have great enough unity in the P-5+1 to bring consequences if they don’t. That’s the strategy. And accepting the package means suspending enrichment and reprocessing and negotiating with us. So that’s the strategy. Now, the tactic of sending Bill Burns was the bookend tactic to my signing the letter, so that the Iranians who sometimes sit and tell our European colleagues we don’t really believe that the Americans are behind this offer — they actually say that — now, they can’t say that. And so, we talked it through among the Security Council – among the national security council principals and people were comfortable with it. And yes, of course, it was the President who made the decision”.

In a further exchange, Rice was asked: “When you signed the letter and when it was transmitted, was this being considered — sending Burns to go?” And she replied: “It came up at the time among the allies. But I thought that signing the letter was enough. And again, we always want to be vigorous on the diplomacy, but both parts of it. And by being vigorous on the part of it that demonstrates American commitment, you can also be vigorous on the side of consequences. And so that was the point. But it came up during that period of time. We decided not to do it. It came up with the Europeans, not so much in our counsels. I made the determination in London that the signature was enough … I think we’ve done enough to demonstrate that the United States is serious, and to assure our partners that we’re serious, and to show the Iranians that we’re serious. I think we’ve done enough”.

UPDATE: Israel’s Debkafile website is reporting on 21 July that “DEBKAfile’s military sources report that Operational Brimstone, starting Monday, July 21, aimed at giving military teeth to the two-week ultimatum the six world powers gave Iran in Geneva Saturday to accept the suspension of uranium enrichment or face harsh sanctions and isolation. After warning of punitive measures against Iran, Condoleezza Rice met the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council plus Egypt, Jordan and Iraq in Abu Dhabi. First she was briefed by Under Secretary of State William Burns. The penalty of withholding refined oil products from Iran would be exercised by means of a partial international naval blockade of its Gulf ports. Taking part in the 10-day exercise in the Atlantic Ocean are more than a dozen ships, including the US carrier strike group Theodore Roosevelt and expeditionary strike group Iwo Jima; the French submarine Amethyste, and the British HMS Illustrious Carrier Strike Group, as well as a Brazilian frigate … The exercise is scheduled to end July 31, two days before the US-European ultimatum to Iran expires. Immediately after the Geneva talks ended in failure, the US State Department issued a statement giving Tehran the option of ‘cooperation or confrontation’. A partial blockade of Iran’s shores, a key element of the new sanctions, would be limited to withholding from Iran supplies of benzene and other refined oil products – not foodstuffs or other commodities. Short of refining capacity, Iran has to import 40 percent of its benzene consumption and will be forced to react to the stoppage. … Addressing the Knesset in Jerusalem Monday, July 21, British prime minister George Brown said: Iran must ”suspend its nuclear program and accept our offer of negotiations or face growing isolation and the collective response not of one nation but of many nations’.’ Brown’s spokesman said the premier did not rule out ‘extended sanctions in some form on the oil and gas sector’ in Iran. Sources said that could involve sanctions on spare parts for Tehran’s fairly limited domestic oil refining capacity.”

Yes, the idea now appears to be to blockade refined oil from reaching Iran, one of the world’s major oil producers, which has not restored its own refining capacity since it was badly damaged by Iraq in the early days of the Iran-Iraq war.

Why Iran has not restored its own petroleum oil refining capacity is not clear — when it is risking nearly everything to insist on its right to have its own indigenous uranium enrichment capacity to run at least one and maybe eventually up to twenty nuclear reactors to provide power for civilian consumption….

In any case, the day before the talks that the Swiss government hosted in Geneva on Saturday (19 July) — at the request of both the EU and Iran, the Swiss said — Iranian officials said they wanted to discuss whatever common points could be found in the proposals submitted from the EU in mid-June, and in their counter-proposal.

Iranian officials also expressed the hope that the Americans would not repeat “past mistakes”.

A Western diplomat wearing a badge saying EU 3+3 talks (and NOT P5 plus 1) said before the meeting that there could be various degrees of “positive” that could emerge in the talks. Who would judge? It would be done by consensus, he said, among the six.

He explained that the wording on the badge reflected a preference to recall the original format of the talks, which involved three European countries — Britain, France and Germany — before the addition of the U.S., Russia and China, which made the group a representation of the five Permanent Members of the UN Security Council plus Germany.

Then, just after the arrivals (when there was a detectable whiff of hope) and the opening photo-op handshake between the EU High Representative Javier Solana and Iran’s nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, (where Jalili seemed stiff and uncomfortable), followed by a subsequent rush of camerapersons through a single door to take pictures of the delegations seated in the Hotel de Ville’s famous Alabama Room – where post U.S. Civil War negotiations between the U.S. and Britain resulted in payment of millions of dollars in British reparations (for building and outfitting Confederate warships), considered the birth of international arbitration and international law — then, just then, the Iranian Ambassador to the Swiss capital Berne told the Associated Press that Iran would never give up its right — or its program — to enrich uranium.

That news story rattled around the world.

During a mid-day break, the EU High Representative Javier Solana, and the Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili went to lunch together, while the other delegations dined separately.

Solana and Jalili came back from lunch separately. The police radios said that the Iranians were going to pray in the Salle des Pas Perdus …

As another journalist said, nobody looked very happy

Not too many press were present, but most of those who were there had followed the issue for years.

A journalist from Iranian TV who came with his delegation kept asking if the Americans were serious about the talks. “Are the American people behind these talks?”, he asked. “But what did the Administration mean when it said that the talks were just a ‘tactic’?”

At the end of the day, at a closing press conference, only Solana and Jalili were present, along with a Swiss representative. At once, Solana set the tone: “We did not get a clear answer. There was no ‘Yes’ or ‘No’.,, no straight ”

Sonala repeated this several times — and each time, Jalili looked very pained. Even, crucified…

Solana said that the meeting had been “substantive” with a “constructive atmosphere”.

A Western diplomat who was present at the talks in Geneva’s historic town hall (Hotel de Ville) said after the meeting that things were not as bad in the meeting as they seemed in the post-meeting press conference.

The Western diplomat said later that Jalili definitely did not state in the meeting that “No, we will not freeze our uranium enrichment program” …

Solana reminded journalists that the EU proposal offered to refrain “from any new UN Security Council sanctions” (while the three sets already in place would apparently remain) in exchange for Iran refraining from any nuclear activity “including the installation of new centrifuges”.

The acoustics in the press conference were terrible — the AP’s expert correspondent George Jahn, who came from Vienna where he covers the IAEA to the Geneva talks heard Solana say that Iran should agree to refrain from any NEW nuclear activity, but I did not hear that qualifier — what I heard was say “any nuclear activity”.

Both Solana and Jalili used a similar vocabulary in one respect — they mentioned “cooperation” and “commitments” — but they apparently meant different things.

Solana says that he hopes to get a clear answer from Iran very soon — in the next couple of weeks, or in about two weeks, he said alternatively — either telephonically or in person.

So, war will not break out tonight.

Still, some journalists hyped this up: “Iran has two weeks to agree to freeze its nuclear program” — or else, they wrote. Maybe they are right.

But it seems clear that Solana and Jalili want to keep on talking. And Iran appears to want to avert outright conflict.

Apparently the Iranians brought a new “non-paper”, in which, Solana’s spokeswoman indicated, Iran has “reorganized the phases”, but, she said, “they do not coincide with our phases”. She did not want to say more.

[The Israel project had earlier mentioned, mysteriously, that a revised EU proposal had been or was going to be presented to Iran. Then, my colleague and friend in Geneva Robert James Parsons sent a link to an article by Gareth Porter also suggesting that the EU proposal was modified due to objections by the U.S.: “According to an E.U. source with direct knowledge of Solana’s meetings with Iranian foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki and nuclear negotiator Jalili, on Jun. 14, however, what Solana presented was different from the ‘freeze for freeze’ proposal that had been discussed among the six powers. The source was not authorized to explain the difference between the two proposals, but it now appears that Solana could not present the original freeze for freeze proposal on behalf of all six powers because the most important actor of all — the United States — had objected. When State Department spokesman McCormack was first asked about an EU ‘freeze for freeze’ proposal on Jul. 3 and whether it was acceptable to the United States, he twice avoided addressing it altogether. But
when a reporter asked in regard to the proposed informal talks, ‘You do it then via the EU-3 [Britain, France and Germany], right, not the P5+1?’ McCormack answered, ‘Via Mr. Solana’ …” The full Gareth Porter analysis, apparently written for IPS, is published here . However, the evidence is not yet totally clear.]

In the post-meeting press conference, Jalili twice mentioned his hopes that there can be a “discussion of our shared worries and concerns” — but based on what he called a “collective obligation” [another Iranian diplomat called it a “collective commitment”, but noted that he was not sure what Jalili meant. His interpretation, he said, was that the each of the parties in the region — and he mentioned Iraq — should make commitments, not just Iran alone…]

In any case, the Western diplomat said after the meeting and the press conference that Solana made a presentation in the meeting, after which the “political directors” of all 6 of the EU 3 + 3 (as they were called on their badges) spoke in support of Solana’s remarks — including Burns.

(The U.S. representative was not, as predicted in advance, totally silent.)

The Western diplomat said that of course, each of the six used his own words.

This diplomat said that he felt it was important and useful that Burns spoke in the meeting, and that the Iranians would now have to think about it …

Both Jalili and Solana mentioned the EU proposal presented in Tehran in mid-June — which was apparently signed by all six of the foreign ministers who have been consulting on what they want to do about Iran’s nuclear program — including Condoleeza Rice, which was regarded as a very big deal, as Leonard Doyle wrote brilliantly in a piece in the Independent last week.

But, after the Saturday talks, the American line tightened up again:

Iran has to make a clear decision to cooperate — it will face greater and greater international isolation, they are now saying, again.