Both the US president George W. Bush and the Iranian foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki sounded unusually upbeat after EU Foreign Executive Javier Solana delivered to Iran the incentives package compiled by the five permanent UN Security Council members and Germany last week.
Bush said he was encouraged by the Iranian response, while Mottaki told the Italian foreign minister his government regarded the package as “a positive development and a significant change of approach towards Iran.”
Neither was talking about the oft-cited proposal package. Their shared optimism, DEBKA–Net-Weekly reports, was generated by the slight but significant progress achieved in three direct and unpublicized negotiating tracks in which US and Iranian representatives are going at it hammer and tongs.
The package is but one of the factors in the talks.
The proposition Solana carried to Tehran contained only incentives; the penalties were left out, set aside in case the direct US-Iranian talks break down, or they are needed to spice up a later round of direct talks.
The current round is in fact the third attempt the US and Iranian governments have made to work out a solution without partners and allies. (See DEBKA-Net-Weekly 246 of March 17, 247 of March 24, and 250 of April 21.)
The first two were washouts. The latest session is so tightly wrapped in secrecy that their participants and venue are unknown, although Switzerland is again the most likely location.
All the same, DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s sources have been able to glean word of three developments from sources close to the talks:
Calling a nuclear spade a spade
1. They are conducted by six teams – two each on three tracks.
2. One track is concerned with the nuclear impasse, the second with Iraq; the third with the long-disputed distribution of Caspian Sea natural resources. (The Caspian Sea field is estimated to hold the world’s third-largest reserves, bypassing Russia and Iran.) Washington’s willingness to enter into talks with Tehran on the disposition of Caspian oil is designed to signal the earnestness of the Bush administration’s quest for an accommodation. The Iranians are meant to understand that America’s readiness to give and take on this loaded strategic issue warrants Iranian reciprocity on Iraq.
3. The talks are going forward at three separate locations after the two parties agreed not to make the three issues inter-dependent but to engage in each on a separate basis.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s informed sources have obtained the following provisional summation of the state of play.
The US team negotiating the nuclear controversy was instructed to lay before its Iranian counterparts sections of incoming data which show Tehran as hyping up its advances in nuclear development. A senior US source disclosed that the purpose of this open-cards tactic is to conduct the talks on the basis of solid facts, calling a spade a spade, rather than letting the Iranians ratchet up their bargaining position by disinformation and hyperbole. Washington is determined not to be gulled into talking on the basis of unreal Iranian achievements.
The US team has raised four points:
A. Iran has been carrying out uranium enrichment in amounts so small as to be categorized as “laboratory quantities.” The enriched product is nowhere near weapons grade levels.
B. Iran is using uranium from yellow cake supplied by China – not UF6 uranium produced at home in the Isfahan plant.
C. Iran has nothing near the 1,600 centrifuge machines it claims, and they are all of the P1 type.
D. Iran has no P2 centrifuges at all.
E. Iran’s boast to have produced enriched uranium to 5.5 percent grade is not true, except possibly in microscopic quantities for laboratory use.
An American source said: “After peeling away the hype and swagger, we know – and the Iranians know we know – the facts of what they can and cannot to.”
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Washington sources add that the administration is not releasing any of this information to the public – firstly, because the Iranians who are extremely touchy about their image would lose face and might even withdraw from the talks; secondly, because their breakthrough to a nuclear weapons capability is still very far off.
If these American estimates are correct, then Iran will be more than keen to accept the incentives package presented them as a gift – especially the American proposal to help them upgrade and modernize their oil fields and industry.