US ready to enter talks with Iran

In spite of Iran's refusal to discuss its nuclear programme, the United States has accepted a broad-ranging proposal for talks with Iran and the P5 plus one states, in the hope that will lead to more substantive negotiations. The US ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice, said the administration would not impose 'artificial deadlines' on Iran and that 'the elections and their aftermath have added a layer of complexity to assessing the overtures and offers of diplomatic engagement.'

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In spite of Iran's refusal to discuss its nuclear programme, the United States has accepted a broad-ranging proposal for talks between the Islamic Republic and the P5 plus one states (the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany), in the hope that this will lead to more substantive negotiations. "The effort to 'test' Iran's intentions, announced on Friday, came after Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said his country is sceptical of the need for new sanctions on Iran, giving the Americans little choice but to treat seriously Iran's latest offer," The Washington Post reported. "Iran this week ruled out talks on its programme, instead offering a five-page plan that it said would lay the groundwork for peace and stability in the region. The document, first posted Thursday on the website of ProPublica news service, made no reference to international demands that Iran suspend its efforts to enrich uranium, but did mention ending proliferation in nuclear weapons as well as a broad offer of dialogue." The New York Times said: "The first announcement of the decision was made Friday in Brussels by Javier Solana, the foreign policy chief of the European Union, who acts as an intermediary for the six countries. "Hours earlier, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, Susan E Rice, appeared to take a softer line on Iran, saying the administration would not impose 'artificial deadlines' on Iran. "It was difficult to judge Mr Obama's outreach to Iran because, she said, 'the elections and their aftermath have added a layer of complexity to assessing the overtures and offers of diplomatic engagement.' "Some administration officials argued that Mr Obama's overtures, which included a videotaped New Year's greeting and at least one letter to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamanei, had thrown the Iranian leadership off balance. They thought that for the first time in recent history, the United States had Iran on the defensive, rather than the other way around." Reuters reported: "The United States will focus on Iran's nuclear programme, which the West suspects is to develop weapons, in upcoming talks with Tehran despite its refusal to discuss the subject, the White House said on Saturday. " 'This may not have been a topic that they wanted to be brought up but I can assure that it's a topic that we'll bring up,' White House spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters on Air Force One as President Barack Obama traveled to talk about his healthcare initiative." Press TV added: "Iran's foreign minister says Tehran is ready for talks with the West on the basis of its latest proposals but reiterated that there will not 'compromise' on its nuclear programme. " 'Iran is seriously willing to enter talks with the world powers on the basis of the items mentioned in the latest package,' Manouchehr Mottaki said in a Saturday press conference with his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu... " 'We cannot have any compromise with respect to the Iranian nation's inalienable right,' Mottaki said during the press conference." Commenting on Iran's proposal, Trita Parsi said: "Between the theology lessons, endless references to justice, and efforts to broaden the negotiations to encompass virtually every global problem known to man, an opening can be found not only to address the nuclear problem, but also the dire human rights situation and the conspicuous absence of justice in Iran. "The Iranian proposal is best understood not from the prism of the West's focus on the nuclear programme, but from the vantage point of Iran's long standing objective to be recognised as a regional power with a permanent seat at the table of regional decision making. Iran believes it suffers from severe role deficit - though it is one of the most powerful countries in the region, its neighbours view it by and large as a disruptive, anti-status quo power and have consequently refrained from giving it access to recognised and institutionalised avenues of influence. "After all, the reigning order in the Middle East is one defined and upheld by the United States, which for the past thirty years has sought Iran's isolation and exclusion, not its inclusion and rehabilitation. Breaking out of this isolation and forcing Washington and the regional capitols to grant Iran the role it craves have been overarching strategic goals of Iranian foreign policy for several decades now." At The Huffington Post, Jeffrey Mankoff outlined some of the reasons Russia's interests diverge from those of the US and its allies when it comes to Iran. "Unlike the US and its allies, checking Iran's nuclear ambitions is not a major priority for Russia. Moscow remains puzzled by what it sees as the American obsession with Iran, and while Russian leaders have said repeatedly - and sincerely - that they would rather Iran not develop a nuclear weapons capability, Russia is unwilling to pay a significant price to prevent Iran from going nuclear. "Russian reticence stems from a number of sources. Given the West's reluctance to [do] business with Tehran, Russian companies have found lucrative opportunities in Iran. Russo-Iranian trade has expanded rapidly, with turnover exceeding $3 billion last year, and slated to grow rapidly in the coming years. Much Russo-Iranian trade is in sectors considered strategically important by the Kremlin. Tehran is a major customer for Russia's defense industry, and Russian gas monopoly Gazprom is involved in developing Iran's vast South Pars gas field. Russia is also deeply involved in Iran's overt nuclear programme, with firms connected to the Ministry of Atomic Energy building the reactor complex at Bushehr." After the controversial and briefly secret trip to Russia by Israel's prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week, Haaretz reported: "One of the main issues that, according to reports, was apparently on Netanyahu's agenda in Russia was the S-300 air defense missile deal with Iran. Initial reports on Moscow's intention to deliver the advanced missiles to Iran were published seven years ago. "Since then, the deal has been placed on hold: it seems that the Russians promised to sell the equipment to Iran, but did not say when. Israel would very much like to see the deal stopped, or at least delayed, because the delivery of this system would substantially improve Iran's ability to defend its nuclear installations against an air strike. It is for this reason that Israel agreed to Russia's request that it cease to sell weapons to Georgia. "However, the Russian position is not unequivocal, and Moscow has not stopped from hinting that it intends to go through with the deal. "One of the Russian claims is that selling advanced air defense systems to countries like Iran and Syria actually contributes to stability in the Middle East because it dissuades Israel from any offensive adventurism. Russia and Iran continue to have clandestine exchanges in matters that give Israel cause to suspect that Moscow is playing both sides."

pwoodward@thenational.ae