Six-nation talks with Iran about its nuclear program have begun in Istanbul

Six-nations talks with Iran about its nuclear program have started in Istanbul.

The last such talks, also held in Istanbul, ended without progress in January 2011.

    UPDATE: After two sessions, it was agreed that further talks will be held on May 23 — in Baghdad. [For those of us with memories of the Iran-Iraq war, this is very wierd.]

Now, these talks are being held under the threat of a possible Israeli military attack to stop Iran before it develops nuclear weapons. Israeli officials have recently suggested, however, that a strike may not be needed before 2013.

The six nations facing Iran are the five permanent members of the UN Security Council [the U.S., Russia, China, France, and Britain, who are the only countries in the world with the veto power to stop any resolution at the UN Security Council, and who also just so happen to be the world’s only officially recognized and “legitimate” nuclear powers, according to the NPT Treaty] — plus Germany. For this reason, the talks are often called “P5+1” talks with Iran.

The EU’s Catherine Ashton [white jacket] talking with Turkey’s FM Ahmet Davutoglu in Istanbul on Saturday morning as talks with Iran about its nuclear program got underway

EU Photo of High Rep Catherine Ashton talking with Turkey's FM Ahmed Davutoglu as the talks began in Istanbul on Saturday morning 13 April 2012

Germany is included because of the great interest it showed for this process in the early 2000s, when one of Iran’s chief nuclear negotiators, Hossein Mousavian, was also Ambassador to Berlin.

European officials prefer to refer to these “P5+1” talks instead as “E3+3” talks — meaning three European powers [Germany, France, and Britain] plus three others [U.S., Russia, China].

U.S. President Obama has also made Israeli officials happy recently by saying that he will not tolerate Iranian nuclear weaponization.

Over two years ago, Israeli analysts at the Tel Aviv-based INSS [Institute for National Security Studies] said that Iran would not pose an “existential threat” to Israel when it was on the threshold of being able to put a nuclear weapon together — as it apparently is now. Nor would Iran not be an “existential threat” when it had one nuclear weapon, or when it tested a nuclear weapon. Iran would need 4 to 8 nuclear weapons assembled and ready-to-use, the experts said, to be an “existential threat” — because it would need a second-strike capability. That means, if Iran fires first, and Israel retaliates, Iran would need to be able to hit back. Nuclear-weapon-armed submarines, capable of sailing far from their home bases, are one of the factors that show a second-strike capability”.

Iranian officials have said they have no intention of making or ever using nuclear weapons — which one senior cleric has called “satanic”.

The Iranian delegation that arrived in Istanbul yesterday said they hoped both sides would be prepared to present “new intitiatives”.

A U.S. Defense Official testified to the International Court of Justice in the mid-1990s, in a case brought against nuclear weapons, that contrary to the argument that nuclear weapons are too dangerous to use, America in fact uses its nuclear weapons every day, on a daily basis — as a deterrent to attack.

Though Iran has argued that it is developing its nuclear energy and medical capacity out of national necessity as well as its national, sovereign right to do so. However, having the capability to assemble a nuclear weapon, if it wanted, elevates Iran to the status of major regional power — and it also acts as a powerful deterrent to attacks.

Robert Nariman wrote in Huffington Post, here, that “There are four reasons for Iran to have a nuclear program, srtated and not-so-stated: [1] energy, [2] medical isotopes, [3] national prestige, and [4] deterring a U.S. or Israeli attack … In particular, a perverse benefit of all the warmongering against Iran is that every time U.S. officials counter the warmongering by saying that a military strike against Iran would be counterproductive because it would drive the Iranians towards nuclear weaponization, it underscores the fact that Iran derives important national security benefits from enrichment without ever needing to crack a textbook on weaponization, nor enrich to 20 percent, nor build a deeper tunnel. If I’m an official in Iran’s enrichment program, every time a U.S. official says that a military strike on Iran’s nuclear program would be counterproductive to U.S. interests, I get a little bit more convinced that I’m never going to need to try to build a nuclear weapon to protect my country from military attack”.

However, expectations are said to be low all around. Sanctions against Iran, imposed bilaterally in addition to three rounds agreed by the UN Security Council, will not be lifted anytime soon — unless Iran completely stops its uranium enrichment, which Iran has said it is unwilling to do.

The stated aim of the six-nations, as determined by leaks from American and European officals to major American media last weekend, might possibly be some temporary suspension of Iran’s 20% uranium enrichment program that produces nuclear fuel rods of the degree needed to run the Tehran Research Reactor in order to produce domestic medical isotopes for medical treatment including against cancer. Iran succeeded in successfully managing this 20%-enrichment technology in 2010. The head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Program has suggested that this production could be suspended — but only once Iran’s “needs” are met.

But, Iranian officials have made it clear, for years, that they could nave no faith in international promises to supply enriched uranium for its nuclear reactors, in light of the 30-year history of freezing of assets, confiscation of aircraft and civilian aircraft parts, and other sanctions that have been imposed non-stop ever since Iran’s Islamic Revolution.

Reuters reported here, ahead of Satuday’s opening session in Istanbul that “Iran’s deputy negotiator Ali Baqeri held separate talks with senior Chinese and Russian officials in Istanbul, while the six powers met separately to coordinate tactics. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman headed the U.S. delegation … Formal talks between Iranian chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili and European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, the powers’ main representative, will get under way on Saturday around 0700 GMT, but Ashton and Jalili also met over dinner on Friday”.

The New York Times’ Steven Erlanger reported here that the talks began with a plenary session on Saturday morning — “involving all delegates from 10 a.m. until lunch”.

[The Guardian later reported herethat the talks started an hour late, for an unknown reason.]

Ashton reportedly began the session by saying the six nations were hoping “to find ways in which we can build confidence between us and ways in which we can demonstrate that Iran is moving away from a nuclear weapons program”.

To be fair, Iran has always said it would never have a nuclear weapons program.

However, the technology that Iran has been mastering for uranium enrichment for energy generation purposes [at 3.5% enrichment level] or for medical purposes [at 20% enrichment level] is the same needed to produce the Highly-Enriched Uranium [90% level] needed for nuclear weapons.

But, highly-enriched uranium is not all that is needed to produce a usable nuclear weapon: explosive devices needed to detonate a weapon, and technology needed to deliver a nuclear weapon capable of striking a distant enemy-threat are also essential… [a nuclear strike near home would endanger one’s own civilian population and infrastructure].

The New York Times piece by Steven Erlanger added that “diplomats suggested that a positive first step would be for Tehran to agree to allow the inspectors to visit all nuclear sites, including those Iran refused to show them in February. That would help restore confidence and could be enough by itself to open the way to further talks, diplomats said. Iran has fueled Western suspicious by denying the atomic energy agency access to the Parchin military base near Tehran, where the agency says Iran may have tested explosives for warhead research”.

Erlanger also noted, in his report, that Iranian Supreme Council leader “Ayatollah Khamenei has recently repeated his fatwa against acquiring nuclear weapons, saying that they are against Islam, which some Western experts see as a way to prepare the Iranian people for any concessions Tehran makes in these talks and those that may follow”.

Though this fatwa [a religious opinion or ruling] was issued in the early 2000s, some have said they never found evidence that it existed. But, Iran’s former Ambassador to the UN in New York, Javad Larijani, has written and spoken about this fatwa, and informed the UN about it, numerous times.
Perhaps, if there is a surprise and huge progress, the six-nations facing Iranian negotiators at the table today may agree that new sanctions against Iranian oil sales, scheduled to go into effect in June, may be frozen or suspended temporarily. The NYTimes piece suggests that American officials now accept that this fatwa does indeed exist.

A second piece in the NYTimes on Saturday, written by James Risen, and posted here, reports that Ayatollah Khamenei said in February that: “Iran is not seeking to have the atomic bomb, possession of which is pointless, dangerous and is a great sin from an intellectual and a religious point of view”. The NYTimes story added that more recently [last month, that is, in March] “Ayatollah Khamenei was reported to have said that ‘we do not possess a nuclear weapon, and we will not build one’. Ayatollah Khamenei has also issued a fatwa, an Islamic edict, against the acquisition of a nuclear bomb by Iran”.

It is interesting that these statements are being given more consideration now, after having been scoffed at, and dismissed contemptuously, earlier.

According to the James Risen piece in the NYTimes, the late Ayatollah Khomeni, the first leader of the Supreme Council established after Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, at first ordered the disbandment of a nuclear program begun under the late Shah Reza Pahlavi [with American help, in the mid 1970s], then the reinstatement of the program in 1984 during the terrible Iran-Iraq war.

Then, Risen reports, “In 2003, probably in response to the American invasion of Iraq, which was originally justified by the Bush administration on the grounds that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, Ayatollah Khamenei ordered a suspension of Iran’s nuclear weapons program, although he has allowed uranium enrichment efforts to continue. At an emergency meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] in 2005, Iran’s nuclear negotiator described how Ayatollah Khamenei [n.b. – successor to Ayatollah Khomeni] had issued a fatwa declaring that ‘the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons are all forbidden in Islam’, and noted that he had said that ‘Iran shall never acquire these weapons’. In the negotiations in Istanbul, American officials seem willing to use Ayatollah Khamenei’s most recent public statements as leverage, insisting publicly, at least, that they are taking him at his word. This month, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called on Iran to back up its assertion that acquiring nuclear weapons would be a sin”…

This is, indeed, a major change in the U.S. official position.

Diplomats have said, however, that they would be encouraged if there would merely be an open discussion of all the issues involved, and if another meeting is scheduled in about a month’s time.

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