x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Talk is the way forward for Iran and the P5+1

Negotiations between Iran and western powers continue in Istanbul today, underscoring the importance of dialogue.

Some say talk is cheap. As negotiations between Iran and the P5 + 1 continue in Istanbul today, talk is of the utmost necessity.

The P5 + 1 - Germany and the UN's permanent Security Council members, China, France, Russia, Britain, and the US - have not given up hope that dialogue can resolve a standoff with Iran over its controversial nuclear programme. Saeed Jalili, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, has also said that there are areas of potential cooperation. "In Geneva we agreed that the talks [this week] will focus on cooperation based on common grounds, and common grounds may include a range of subjects," he told Le Figaro this month. Though, as has frequently been the case, the Iranian negotiator left room for interpretation of his remarks and his country's intentions.

Diplomats from the P5 + 1 nations, one of whom told The National that exchanges in Geneva last month were encouraging enough for both parties to be optimistic as they return to the table, have prized hope over their experience with Iran over the last several years. Iran's recent history of dialogue with the international community is replete with broken promises, but the desire of the P5 +1 to broker a deal - and trust in Iran to keep it - endures. Mechanisms to verify that Iran is keeping its promises are likely to be a sticking point of any negotiations.

Today's talks have a different background than those in previous years: sanctions are taking their toll on the Islamic Republic, particularly in its ability to procure the components and materials essential to its nuclear programme, though other sectors of the Iranian economy have felt the pinch as well. Malware and cyberstrikes also appear to have made their mark, slowing down operations at facilities that are alleged to be part of an Iranian nuclear programme. A complex computer virus, Stuxnet, is reported to have disrupted the operations of Iran's centrifuges. The supposed event was significant enough for the US secretary of state Hillary Clinton to assert that Iran's nuclear capacity had been delayed several years.

It would be naive to expect a major breakthrough in Turkey today but that Iran is once again at the table is cause for optimism. While many outstanding issues remain - including a suspended fuel swap brokered by Turkey and Brazil in 2009 - the atmosphere appears conducive for fruitful negotiations. It behooves all parties to keep talking.