by Rick Moran
It's been 15 months since Iran and the P5+1 powers sat down to discuss a way to avoid a military confrontation over Iran's nuclear program. No one is expecting the talks, that got underway in Istanbul today, to make much progress in that regard.
But there are some atmospherics that are different.
The talks, in Istanbul, the first between Iran and the six powers in 15 months, are unlikely to yield any major breakthrough but Western diplomats hope to see readiness from Tehran to start to discuss issues of substance.
That, they say, would mark a big change in Iran's attitude from the last meeting when it refused even to talk about its nuclear program and could be enough for scheduling a second round of talks next month, possibly in Baghdad.
Such an outcome could, at least for the time being, dampen speculation that Israel might launch military strikes on Iranian atomic sites to prevent its enemy from obtaining nuclear arms.
The morning round of talks were "completely different" from the previous meeting 15 months ago and Iranian chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili had not stated the kind of preconditions that he did in the last meeting in early 2011, a diplomat said.
"He seems to have come with an objective to get into a process which is a serious process," said the envoy, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "I would say it has been a useful morning's work."
Both sides say they are ready at the meeting to work towards resolving the deepening dispute over the nuclear program which the West suspects is geared towards achieving a nuclear arms capability, but which Iran says has purely peaceful purposes.
What is motivating Iran to sit down now?
The latest round of EU and US sanctions are hurting the Iranians badly. The EU oil embargo is significantly reducing the money flowing into the government's coffers while the US restrictions on the Iranian central bank are playing havoc with their foreign trade. Additional sanctions being planned would only make things worse for the Iranians. Hence, they felt they had little choice but to sit down and at least give the appearance of negotiating.
In essence, the Iranians are buying time by sitting down with the big powers. If they can get some of the sanctions eased without giving up too much of their nuclear program, they will do so. But they are very unlikely to satisfy the west in these negotiations. And they will never satisfy Israel that their intentions are peaceful.
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