One more run at engagement with Iran in Geneva

Geneva and Manama provide opportunities for a restart in US diplomacy with Iran. They could also be the last.

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As diplomatic revelations unfold about the content of the Wikileaks documents, leaders in the Middle East seem to be understandably preoccupied with Iran. Some cables have even expressed a willingness to consider the use of force by the US to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon.
Publicly, the Obama administration has said that all options are on the table in dealing with Tehran. But Washington has so far given priority to sanctions and, it seems, at least, one more run at engagement.
After more than a year, the US, along with the UK, France, Russia, China, and Germany, the P5+1, are preparing for another round of talks with Iran next week in Geneva. American and Iranian delegations will also participate in the 7th annual Regional Security Summit, or "Manama Dialogue," organised by London's International Institute for Strategic Studies this weekend in Bahrain.
As two diplomatic arenas, Geneva and Manama provide opportunities for a re-start in US diplomacy with Iran about its nuclear programme, and for institutionalising a regional security agenda for the Gulf.
Let's start with Geneva, where the endgame for US-Iran nuclear diplomacy is Iran's full cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in return for sanctions relief. The talks will take place following last year's Tehran Declaration, signed by the Foreign Ministers of Iran, Turkey, and Brazil, in which Iran agreed to ship 1,200kg of low-enriched uranium to Turkey in return for the delivery of 120kg of nuclear fuel for civilian medical purposes.
As Iran may be feeling the squeeze of US and UN sanctions at the moment, the US could consider a two-tiered agenda centred on the Tehran Declaration and an earlier 2008 P5+1 proposal to Iran for a "broad-based negotiation".
First, the Tehran Declaration, though flawed from a US perspective, should be considered a diplomatic breakthrough. Agreement on the fuel swap could allow Iran a face-saving win for its diplomacy, perhaps justifying a pause in its enrichment activities as called for in UN Security Council resolutions.
It could also set a precedent of Iran sending its uranium abroad for enrichment under IAEA supervision. If a compromise on a modified fuel swap (the US wants more than 1,200 kg of low-enriched uranium to be shipped out of Iran) cannot be reached next week in Geneva, the outcome should be intensive, sustained, working-level talks between Iran and the members of the "Vienna Group" (the US, Russia, France and the IAEA) as well as Turkey and Brazil, if Ankara and Brasilia are willing.
Secondly, a June 2008 proposal by the P5+1 to Iran states that a pause in enrichment and full cooperation with the IAEA could lead to a "broad-based negotiation" with Iran, including assistance with civil nuclear energy, a guaranteed nuclear fuel supply, and discussions about regional security and political and economic cooperation in other areas. An EU statement in July announcing sanctions on Iran noted that "proposals made to Iran in June 2008 are still valid". Another outcome of the Geneva talks might include working groups on aspects of this proposal.
In Bahrain, meanwhile, both the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki will be speaking, albeit on different days, at the Manama Dialogue. The presence of both Mrs Clinton and Mr Mottaki, as well as ministerial delegations from the Gulf and worldwide, could provide an unusual opportunity for the US, Iran, Iraq, and the GCC states to present new initiatives for a Gulf regional security agenda.
Such initiatives could include inviting Iran to join GCC efforts to establish a nuclear-weapons-free zone and the peaceful use of nuclear energy in the region; economic, environmental and maritime cooperation in the Gulf; regional support for Iraq and Afghanistan; and combatting trafficking in narcotics and persons.
To be effective, diplomacy must be sustained, not episodic. There will be no peaceful outcome absent negotiations with Iran. As such, the choice, more than ever, seems to be with Tehran.
The Wikileaks documents have revealed that private discussions among US and regional leaders convey an even greater sense of urgency and crisis than what is said in public about Iran's ambitions. Geneva and Manama may be among the last chances for a diplomatic complement to sanctions and the possible threat of force.
Andrew Parasiliti is the executive director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies - US