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Thursday, 10 July 2008

By Trita Parsi

CONCILIATORY noises from Tehran over the nuclear issue have left Washington and Brussels baffled, and unconvinced of Iran's intentions. Having grown accustomed to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's uncompromising language, Tehran's new tone has raised more suspicion than hope among cynics in western capitals.

At a lunch with a dozen US journalists in New York last week, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki indicated that Iran would likely respond favourably to the latest proposal by the Security Council's permanent members plus Germany (P5+1). The reason seems to be that alongside an incentive package that didn't differ significantly from a 2006 package that Tehran rejected, a formula may have been agreed upon that would enable all parties to come to the negotiating table without losing face.
 
European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana presented the formula orally to the Iranians: For a period of six weeks, Iran would halt any advancement in its enrichment activities while the Security Council would refrain from imposing additional sanctions on Iran. During this period, the Europeans and Iran would negotiate an agreement on the modalities of a full suspension, after which the United States would formally join the talks. This way, Tehran can claim that it didn't suspend as a precondition, but rather as a result of talks, and Washington can claim that it did not join talks until Iran had suspended all enrichment activities.
 
This formula is not new, however. Why — and whether — Iran would agree to it now has become the subject of much speculation. In typical fashion, Iran has sent contradictory signals. Iran's foreign minister struck an uncharacteristically conciliatory tone in New York, refusing to repeat Tehran's mantra that enrichment is non-negotiable. Days before, former foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati argued in favour of negotiations in an interview to the conservative daily, Jomhouriye Eslami.
 
The debate in Tehran over this issue seems to have centred on whether to continue defying the Security Council or to consolidate Iranian gains. —IPS News

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