WASHINGTON— Iran is expected to introduce new proposals regarding its controversial nuclear program when talks with major Western nations resume next Tuesday in Geneva. There is cautious optimism because this is the first round of negotiations since Iran’s new president took office.
Iranian war games in the Middle East. U.S. warplanes roaring down an aircraft runway in the Persian Gulf. Military muscle flexing has for years been indicative of the adversarial relationship between Iran and the West.
But with sanctions crippling Iran’s economy, however, diplomacy now has taken center stage.
Recently-elected President Hassan Rouhani says it is time for a new approach. “Iran will prepare and present it in Geneva. We hope that even a more effective step will be taken in Geneva in order to settle the nuclear issue.”
The biggest symbolic breakthrough came when U.S. President Barack Obama spoke to his Iranian counterpart on the phone, opening the way for a possible thaw in relations.
This creates a new dynamic, according to Iran expert Patrick Clawson with The Washington Institute. “This team wants to get a deal that is on Iran’s terms and there is going to be some hard negotiating, but they want to get a deal," he said. “That is the big difference.”
The West wants Iran to halt production of near weapons grade uranium. It wants to stop activities at the underground Fordow plant, part of what the U.S. and Israel say is an undercover weapons program, a charge Tehran denies.
Another major issue is the heavy water plant at Arak, which could soon produce plutonium, a second route to nuclear weapons.
The West will want a vigorous program of verification.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said it is time not for words but action. "So what we need are a set of proposals from Iran that fully disclose how they will show the world that their program is peaceful.”
Israel has threatened military strikes unless Iran’s program is curtailed.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “So long as Iran has not dismantled the centrifuges or the plutonium reactors, there should be no relaxing of the sanctions.”
Iran wants relief from sanctions that have severely restricted oil exports. It also wants access to the international monetary system, after its currency has plummeted in value.
Ultimately, analysts say, one man will determine whether Iran will agree to a deal - Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
“While we are optimistic about the diplomatic delegation of our dear nation and government, we are pessimistic about the Americans,” said Khamenei.
Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif was named to head his country’s negotiating team. Iranian state media say Tehran wants Western powers to send top diplomats to the talks.