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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Bringing Iran to Geneva

RIA Novosti

00:52 08/12/2010

December 8 (RIA Novosti) - The latest round of talks about the Iranian nuclear program has come to a close in Geneva. These P-5 plus 1 talks saw the five permanent UN Security Council members Russia, the United States, China, France, and Britain plus Germany meet Iranian representatives to discuss this thorny issue after a hiatus of over a year. The EU's new foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton suggested that the talks take place in Geneva, the capital of international diplomacy, which has lulled more key international issues to sleep than it has achieved breakthroughs (not through the fault of that handsome city itself).

The Iranian side had first proposed meeting in Istanbul, but that venue was not deemed sufficiently neutral for such delicate talks. Interestingly, one of the outcomes of these two-day talks was to agree to more talks: to be held in a year's time, in Istanbul.

The opening round of negotiations was seen as being very much under EU diplomatic chief Ashton's aegis, which suits everybody: any success sees the EU's reputation score a point; any lack of success similarly confines the blame.

Negotiating as nuclear scientists are killed off

The most striking thing about the recent round is that, in view of the circumstances and background, it ought not to have taken place at all. Only a week before it opened, early on Monday November 29, one well-known nuclear scientist, Majid Shahriari, was killed and another, Fereydoun Abbasi, was seriously wounded in Tehran. These were copycat operations, timed for rush hour (7:30 a.m.) in different parts of the city: motorcycle riders stuck directional bombs with shrapnel to the windows of the scientists' cars and managed a quick getaway 5 to 7 seconds before the ensuing blasts. Both physicists' wives were seriously injured. In January, a similar "motorcycle bomb," also during morning rush hour, killed Iranian physicist Masoud Alimohammadi. He was also involved in Iran's nuclear research program. In 2007, one of the founders of the nuclear research center in Isfahan, Ardeshir Hassanpour, died from radiation poisoning.

With three leading nuclear researchers now dead and one seriously injured, coincidence is not an option. The U.S. magazine Time and the British newspapers are openly reporting that there can be only one agency behind these killings: Israel's intelligence service Mossad.

Iran's Foreign Minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, accused the UN Security Council of leading the terrorists to Abbasi, since he was named in the 2007 sanctions resolution.

Now if something similar were to happen in the West to any of its nuclear scientists, would the world's media react so calmly? Would there even be talks about talks?

But relations between Iran and those who oppose its nuclear ambitions, their approaches to the nuclear issue are so fraught with illogical, barely comprehensible and bizarre facts that these latest "twists" do not seem at all unnatural.

That said, all the talk is of a very risky turning point in the "major war" against an Iranian bomb still in development. One may dislike ayatollahs, or the abnormal, paranoid aggressiveness of Iran's leadership and its unpredictability, but when university professors and scientific researchers are hunted down to put a stop to these "nuclear plans," this approach to solving the problem seems barely civilized.

It is as if in the 1950s the Soviet Union had launched a manhunt for Wernher von Braun, the man behind all U.S. nuclear launch vehicles. It is worth noting in passing that it had both the ability and opportunity to do just that.

The P5 plus 1 approached these recent talks in Geneva planning to renew their offer to Tehran of a uranium-swap, which would see Iran agree to refrain from enriching uranium itself, in exchange for fuel supplies (probably from Russia) for research reactors. That gambit holds little new or surprising from Iran's perspective. In October 2009, Iran nearly accepted the proposal made during the last round of talks with P5 plus 1, but padded it out with convoluted conditions, such as specifying that these exchanges take place on Iranian territory. Geneva was unlikely to make much headway here.

The Iranians are wont to bring their own agendas to talks and to raise them in discussion whatever their partners' views. This time, in the wake of these killings, Tehran had something concrete to engage the P5 plus 1 with, alongside the fundamental subject under discussion.

Each with its own sanctions

Even a small step from Geneva was always going to be hailed as a great success. It is something of a triumph that they gathered at all.

But progress on this issue remains maddeningly slow. Despite the fact that, to date, four sanction resolutions have been adopted and seven rounds of talks held, there is the conspicuous lack of any public outcry against Ahmadinejad's regime (the purported target of the sanctions), there is no indication that it is set to meet an early demise, nor is there any sign of convergence between the different parties' positions.

A school of thought on the resolution of the Iranian problem has already emerged that deems this P5 plus 1 format too weighty for the issue at hand. Passing the "baton" of this initiative on to the European Union, Moscow, Beijing, or Berlin, have all been mooted as credible possibilities. But that would yield little, because the Iranians, for all their respect for the other parties, hold the United States in the highest esteem. All sides are very well aware that only Washington is really in any position to hold substantial talks with Iran, since only Washington can rein in Israel, or even exert some degree of control over it. During the first year of his presidency Barack Obama seemed to be hinting that the White House was ready to open direct relations with Tehran, but this has yet to materialize.

For many, including the United States and Europe, the Middle East, with all its deep and neglected concerns, is largely terra incognita. All these problems tend to be viewed through the prism of the Arab-Israeli standoff, though that view is a long way from providing a comprehensive diagnosis of the underlying condition. The remedies lie elsewhere. Apart from the "big problem" of the Arab-Israeli conflict, there are a myriad of lurking regional issues and stumbling blocks, instances of hidden and open confrontation, such as, for example, the inherent enmity between the Shia and the Sunni.

Considering that Iran's Shia footprints (Shia Islam is the official religion in Iran) can be detected today all the way from the Mediterranean to Pakistan, that its influence can be felt in Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon, not "talking" with Tehran is strange to say the least. The official U.S. policy of "non-engagement" with Tehran is no policy at all under present circumstances and it cannot last long.

Russia, too, must tread more gingerly if the UN Security Council is so set on sanctions against Tehran. The most recent lesson learnt from sanctions shows that Russia backs one kind of sanctions, while the United States favors another: it extended the sanctions to gasoline and oil product supplies to Iran, a move Russia fiercely opposed. Expert estimates suggest that Moscow stands to lose about $10-13 billion from these anti-Tehran sanctions. True, these losses will be spread over the next 10 years and could include possible, as yet un-finalized armaments contracts. Direct losses so far amount to no more than $1-1.3 billion. But future losses also count.

The views expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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