British Foreign Secretary David Miliband appeared cautiously optimistic last week when he emerged from the talks in London with his counterparts from the United States, Russia, China, France, and Germany.
"Iran says that it wants to play a constructive role," Miliban said. "We believe that the rights that it seeks need to be accompanied by a clear set of responsibilities, and it's in the spirit of seeking to fulfill both rights and responsibilities that we're making the new approach to Iran on the basis of today's meeting."
But Iran was quick to pour cold water on the offer, which reportedly outlined possibilities of technical assistance if Iran gave up its uranium-enrichment program. On May 3, one day after the talks, Iran’s Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki said any offer should not enter what he called the “forbidden zone,” a reference to demanding that Tehran halt its enrichment activities.
The next day, on May 4, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say in state matters, also weighed in. He said Iran would not give up the program, which world powers fear will be used to build nuclear weapons.
“It is a national duty not to fear any sanction,” Khamenei said. “We should not allow anybody to deprive Iran of its legitimate rights.” He added, “No world power can make Iran retreat from its path.”
No Talk Of New Sanctions
The offer comes amid three sets of sanctions already imposed by the Security Council on Iran for refusing to halt controversial uranium-enrichment activities. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said there had been no discussion of imposing new sanctions on Iran during the London talks.
According to Miliband, the new proposal, similar to an offer made in 2006, was again designed to show Iran “the benefits of cooperating with the international community,” which he said has a “grave problem” with Iran’s nuclear activities. Iran says those activities are purely peaceful. Miliband did not reveal details of the new offer and said the content of the latest proposal would only be disclosed to the government of Iran.
The world powers consider enrichment suspension the key condition to resuming negotiations with Iran. Tehran has always rejected that condition.
The stalemate, among other issues, has led to calls by some politicians and observers for direct talks between Iran and the United States. The archfoes have not had diplomatic relations since the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the subsequent storming of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.
Gains From Engagement
But Norman Lamont, a former British finance minister, tells Radio Farda that any such talks could be possible only after the U.S. presidential elections, when a new administration comes to power in Washington.
“In the recent past, Iran has decided it has been pretty successful in advancing its interest in its foreign policy and possibly it’s been less interested in talking," Lamont says. "I hope that’s not the case, because I think both sides have a huge amount to gain from engagement. And I think after the American presidential elections -- whether there is a Republican president or a Democratic president -- I think the opinion will be that there should be attempts to open a dialogue with the U.S.”
In Baghdad, the United States and Iran have held limited, low-level talks in recent months focused on security in Iraq. But Iran's Foreign Ministry has said Tehran would not hold a fourth round of talks with the United States until U.S. forces end an assault against Iraqi Shi'ite militias. Washington accuses Tehran of supporting the militias.