Iran has quickly wrested the much-touted nuclear talks out of Washington’s hands and set their own agenda for the process as the administration sent the signal that it wasn’t sinking too much effort into what President Obama has branded a true shot at defusing the crisis.
The five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany sat down with the Islamic Republic in Geneva, but Secretary of State John Kerry, who made a big deal of the fresh engagement at last month’s General Assembly, didn’t show.
Kerry was in Washington meeting with USAID Administrator Raj Shah, sitting down with his Jordanian counterpart Nasser Judeh, and hosting a lunch with Henry Kissinger and George Schultz for the U.S.-China Track II Dialogue delegations.
Instead, the State Department sent Under Secretary for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman to the P5+1 talks. The Iranians were reportedly miffed that their foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, showed up despite having a sore back yet Kerry didn’t make the trip. Zarif refused to sit down with Sherman, so a bilateral meeting took place between Sherman and Zarif’s deputy.
“I think it’s appropriate for foreign ministers to come together when it makes sense,” a senior administration official said Monday. “…We’ve passed the bilateral Rubicon. The meeting has happened. Whether we have a bilateral here or not, I certainly hope we can continue those discussions.”
“But as I’ve said to you any number of times, it’s less the modality than the results that count. And so we’re looking for results and encourage Iran to have bilaterals with all the members of the P5+1, including the United States. But we’re past that Rubicon, not only by the Secretary of State having a bilateral with Foreign Minister Zarif, but the President of the United States having a phone conversation with President Rouhani,” the official added.
Without top-level representation from the U.S. at the meeting, Iran whipped out a PowerPoint presentation today detailing its plan for supposedly reining in its already rapidly advanced nuclear program.
That included continued uranium enrichment for what Iran says is a nuclear energy, not weapons, program observed by the International Atomic Energy Agency, plus a repeal of U.S. and international sanctions.
“The Group 5+1 member states welcomed the generalities of Iran’s plan,” Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Seyed Abbas Araqchi announced after the meeting. “Unlike the previous meetings that every side entered the negotiations to attain its own goals, this time we will try to design a common goal and then move towards it. The negotiations were held in a highly positive atmosphere and the two sides were serious when speaking of their issues.”
Zarif presented the PowerPoint in the morning but left the “technical” afternoon meetings up to Araqchi.
Araqchi said the exact details of Iran’s three-stage proposal were “confidential” and would remain so through negotiations, something the U.S. has agreed to.
“Mr. Zarif had a PowerPoint presentation of the plan in details, the generalities of the plan were discussed in the morning session and the details will be studied by political directors in the afternoon,” Araqchi added.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also said the P5+1 should be required to declare that they’re not seeking regime change in Iran, according to Fars news agency.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said today that he didn’t even consider that Iran had come out swinging with an offer.
“I think that there was a P5+1 meeting in Geneva, the first day of it, and the Iranian delegation made a presentation and the P5+1 and Iran spent the day discussing the presentation. We’re not going to negotiate this in public or go into the details of what was in their proposal. We certainly want to make clear that no one — despite the positive signs that we’ve seen — no one should expect a breakthrough overnight,” Carney said.