Wednesday, September 20, 2006

US Concession Clears Way for Iran-EU Talks

Najmeh Bozorgmehr, The Financial Times:
Iran’s chief nuclear security official, Ali Larijani, is expected to resume talks with the European Union’s Javier Solana next week following a concession by the US to give the process more time before pursuing a UN sanctions resolution. READ MORE

The Iranian state news agency – reporting from Damascus where Mr Larijani met the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, on Wednesday – said Iran’s chief negotiator would continue talks with Mr Solana, the EU’s foreign policy supremo.

Although the meeting had been expected to take place at the UN in New York, reports from Tehran said they would meet in Europe.

Diplomats are trying to work out a process whereby negotiations will begin and Iran will suspend its uranium enrichment. The sequence is still unclear, but signs of progress and pressure from France, China and Russia has persuaded the US to put the sanctions drive on hold.

Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad insisted on Iran’s right to develop nuclear energy in a forceful speech to the UN General Assembly in New York on Tuesday. He also reiterated Iran’s adherence to its international safeguard commitments, while questioning the legitimacy of the UN Security Council and what he called the abuse of the UN by the veto-wielding powers, particularly the US and UK.

The position of Mr Ahmadi-Nejad in Iran’s top leadership is stronger in domestic issues, while big international policies, including the nuclear decisions, are taken collectively by the top leadership. Sources have confirmed that Mr Ahmadi-Nejad, with a rather confrontational approach, is in the minority within the leadership.

Although his speech lacked any suggestion of dialogue and compromise with the West over the nuclear programme, it was less confrontational than some western observers had feared. Ahead of the speech European diplomats had warned that if it was too aggressive it could jeopardise the chances of striking a deal on opening formal negotiations.

Mr Ahmadi-Nejad also used the speech to again display his millennialist approach to world affairs, starting and wrapping up his speech by praying for the return of the last Imam of Muslim Shia, Mahdi, who is supposed to save the world by bringing justice.

Mr Ahmadi-Nejad adopted populist language on Middle Eastern issues, including Iraq, the Occupied Territories and Lebanon, but he did not repeat his earlier controversial comments about “wiping Israel off the map” and questioning the truth of the Holocaust, which brought him popularity in the Islamic world.