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Talking With Tehran- an Overview of U.S.-iran Nuclear Negotiations

Talking With Tehran- an Overview of U.S.-iran Nuclear Negotiations

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Last week’s talks between Iran and EU officials followed a familiar pattern: no agreement was reached, but another round of talks is expected soon. The lack of a breakthrough has given rise to calls for the U.S. to take more aggressive action, from ratcheting up sanctions to military strikes. Calls to abandon negotiations fail to take into account the history of U.S.-Iran engagement. This overview of nuclear talks between the U.S. and Iran shows that the two countries have had very limited contact over the past several decades. Diplomatic solutions to the nuclear standoff have not been exhausted in these few meetings. Understanding the context of U.S.-Iran diplomacy, it is clear that the U.S. should continue to engage rather than abandoning negotiations before every option has been explored.
Last week’s talks between Iran and EU officials followed a familiar pattern: no agreement was reached, but another round of talks is expected soon. The lack of a breakthrough has given rise to calls for the U.S. to take more aggressive action, from ratcheting up sanctions to military strikes. Calls to abandon negotiations fail to take into account the history of U.S.-Iran engagement. This overview of nuclear talks between the U.S. and Iran shows that the two countries have had very limited contact over the past several decades. Diplomatic solutions to the nuclear standoff have not been exhausted in these few meetings. Understanding the context of U.S.-Iran diplomacy, it is clear that the U.S. should continue to engage rather than abandoning negotiations before every option has been explored.

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Published by: The American Security Project on Jul 30, 2012
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www.AmericanSecurityProject.org1100 New York Avenue, NW Suite 710W Washington, DC
alking with ehran:
 An Overview o U.S.-Iran NuclearNegotiations
Mary Kaszynski
 July 2012
“Even in the darkest days of the Cold War, we had links to the Soviet Union. We are not talking to Iran, so we don’t understand each other. If something happens,it’s virtually assured that we won’t get it right.” 
 Adm. Mike Mullen
, ormer Chair o the Joint Chies o Sta 
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In brief 
•
Formal discussions between the U.S. and Iran on nuclear issues have beenlimited to a handul o meetings over the past several decades.
•
 While a nuclear deal has proved elusive thus ar, talks with Iran have yieldedpromising proposals that could be the basis o a uture agreement.
•
Rather than abandoning diplomacy, the U.S. should continue to engage Iranto nd a diplomatic solution and avoid an unquantiable military conict.
Introduction
Months o slow progress in nuclear negotiations with Iran have some pundits calling or a astersolution to the stando – abandoning talks,ratcheting up sanctions, even military strikes.Tese recommendations tend to stem rom thebelie that the U.S. and Iran have engaged insustained, substantive talks on the nuclear issue.In act, just the opposite is true. What somecharacterize as “nine years o negotiations”
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 between the U.S. and Iran has actually been a handul o ace-to-ace meetings and a ew writtencommunications (most exchanged through thirdparties) spread out over the course o nine years.
Release of the P5+1 Statement on Iran, July  2006 
 
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 AmericAn security project
Tis overview o U.S. nuclear negotiations with Iran shows that, regardless o the outcome o the current talks,diplomatic solutions to the impasse have not been exhausted. Beore turning to aggressive actions that couldprovoke a wider conict in the Middle East, it makes sense to make every eort to engage Iran.
 A imeline of U.S.-Iran Diplomacy 
Te U.S. broke diplomatic ties with Iran in 1980, shortly ater Iranian militants stormed the U.S. Embassy inehran and took approximately seventy hostages. U.S. interests in Iran were assumed by the Swiss government;Iran was represented in the U.S. rst by Algeria, then by Pakistan.
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 For over thirty years, thereore, ace-to-ace negotiations between Iranian and U.S. ofcials have been rare.Discussions o Irans nuclear program have been even rarer. A series o events ollowing the diplomatic break (the Iran-Iraq war, Iran Contra Aair, and Iran Air Flight 655)urther estranged the two countries.
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1995 saw the rst round o U.S. economic sanctions on Iran. Te U.S.continues to increase sanctions today.
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 Te atermath o September 11
th
brought a promising thaw to U.S.-Iranrelations. Iran and the U.S. cooperated on Aghanistan operations in 2001 andparticipated in the 2002 Bonn Conerence on Aghanistan.
 
Further discussionsbroke down when the U.S. did not take up a 2003 oer rom Iran (transmittedvia Switzerland) or bilateral negotiation o a “grand political bargain.”
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 2007 saw the rst ormal talks between the U.S. and Iran in 27 years. Te topico discussion was not nuclear, however, but rather the situation in Iraq.Initiating talks on Iran’s nuclear program proved difcult. In 2006, the U.S joinedthe Russia, China, and the EU3 (France, Germany, and the UK) to oer Iran a comprehensive proposal.Te U.S. did not join the EU3 presentation o the proposal in 2006, however. It was not until July 2008 thatthe P5+1 – the EU3 plus Russia, China, and the U.S. – presented a revised version o the June 2006 proposalin a ace-to-ace meeting.Discussions in all 2009 over a uel swap proposal ultimately ell apart. Te P5+1 and Iran resumed talks 14months later, meeting in Geneva in December 2010 and in Istanbul in January 2011.Te 15-month hiatus ollowing these talks was broken in April 2012, when the P5+1 and Iran met in Istanbul.Tis meeting was ollowed by meetings in Baghdad and Moscow. High-level political talks were ollowed by technical talks between EU and Iranian ofcials.
Nuclear Proposals
Negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program have not yet yielded a lasting, comprehensive agreement on Iran’snuclear program. Some have argued that ailure to achieve an agreement thus ar shows that negotiations willnever work. Tis argument, however, ignores the whole history o negotiations with Iran. A comprehensive look at Iranian nuclear negotiations and the proposals that have resulted shows that progresscan be made through engagement.
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Secretary Clinton with EU HighRepresentative Lady Catherine  Ashton, September 2011
 
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In act, engagement with Iran has yielded several promising agreements. Tese have included:
•
Te ehran Declaration (2003) and the Paris Agreement (2004)
In talks with the EU3, Iran agreed in October 2003 to suspenduranium enrichment and processing, allow IAEA inspections, andsign the Additional Protocol to the Nonprolieration reaty.Te ehran Declaration was the basis or ongoing talks that yieldedthe 2004 Paris Agreement, in which the EU3 recognized Iran’sright to peaceul enrichment and Iran agreed to voluntarily suspendenrichment under IAEA monitoring.
•
Te P5+1 Fuel Swap Proposal
In October 2009 the P5+1 and Iran came close to closing a deal in which Iran would give up low enriched uranium in exchange or higher enriched (but not weapons-grade) uraniumthat could be used as in uel rods or the ehran Research Reactor. While the deal ell through, elements o this are a key part o proposals on the table today.
•
Te Moscow Step-by-Step Proposal
In July 2011 Russia outlined a step-by-step plan in which Iran would agree to answer questions concerning its nuclear activities in exchange or gradual liting o Western sanctions. A phased approach, experts say, may be the best solution to the current stando.
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Conclusion
Critics o the ongoing negotiations with Iran argue that diplomatic avenues have been exhausted and that theadministration is “[clinging] to a ‘process’ that is going nowhere.
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Tese arguments ail to take into account the historical context o nuclear negotiations with Iran. Evenincluding the three recent P5+1 meetings, the U.S. and Iran have engaged in very ew ormal discussions overthe past several decades.Previous eorts to engage Iran, while ailing to produce a comprehensive agreement, show that diplomacy canproduce concrete results.Te consequences o dismissing negotiations beore every option has been explored are serious. aking the wrong tack with Iran could lead to a conict that would be disastrous or both sides.Rather than dismissing negotiations, the U.S. should commit to engagement, understanding that the recenttalks with Iran have just begun to address the misunderstandings and mistrust that grew rom decades o nottalking.
 Mary Kaszynski is a Policy Analyst at the American Security Project specializing innuclear security and arms control issues.
Deputy Secretary of State Burns with the heads of each P5 delegation, June  2012 

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