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Iran on Nuclear Talks: "Slower, please."

With the international community openly discussing potential Russian uranium enrichment as an alternative to any indigenous Iranian process long before anything official was presented to Iran by the Russians, that formality has now passed and the Iranian response has been predictably mixed thus far. Iran’s initial response through its Fars News Agency was one of open indifference, with an unnamed official stating that they had merely received a one page letter with no details and, therefor, could not issue any opinion without details. But that was rapidly followed by a more widely publicized response from the deputy head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council and lead nuclear negotiator, Javad Vaidi, who said that Iran would review the Russian proposal seriously and enthusiastically. When the Russian plan was divulged in greater detail, its principal proposal was to set up a joint Russian-Iranian company operating on Russian soil and, thus, ultimately under Russian physical control.

From the elected Majlis, the head of the Majlis national security and foreign relations committee, Ala’eddin Borujerdi, said that Moscow’s uranium enrichment proposal was unacceptable and that Iran will not aquiesce to Iranian facilities on Russian soil. Counter that with the statement from the Iranian Foreign Ministry that appears to suggest potential common ground by saying, “The earlier Russian offer to Iran to establish a joint Russian-Iranian uranium enrichment venture in Russia remains valid.”

On the American front, the US State Department levied sanctions against six Chinese companies, two Indian companies and an Austrian firm for aiding Iran’s various weapons programs, potentially signaling a tougher stance on both Iran and China to be taken by the United States. But the sanctions’ bark is greater than their bite, as it only applies to trade with the US, not a direct prevention mechanism to derail dangerous deals with Iran or any other country. At least one of the Chinese companies already has US sanctions on it. Some Europeans question the sanctions and are complaining that they are counter-productive to the ongoing negotiation process. What they fail to realize is that the negotiations will be going nowhere fast, which is the Iranian plan.

To underscore this, the latest self-contradictory reactions to the Russian plan should be viewed within the context of statements that followed last week’s non-event, the reuniting of the EU3 and Iran at the negotiating table in Vienna. After the meetings broke, the Europeans stated that nothing was accomplished, nothing was learned, and nothing eventful happened. Yet, conversely, the Iranians said that they saw great promise in the meetings and that a compromise was certainly in sight. This fits the contradictory pattern that has existed since talks first began.

Iran has been very careful thus far not to have previously outright rejected the forthcoming Russian proposal now at hand for fear of inspiring immediate referral to the UN Security Council. Now that the proposal is formally here, the varied responses from the different corners of the Iranian regime represent no real game plan or end game that Iran sees from the ‘talks about talks’. Considering all of this, the Iranian responses above can and should be seen as little more than disingenuous forestalling, biding for more time for internal nuclear development without intrusion and perpetual stalling of any UN Security Council confrontation and possible sanctions. All they need and want is more time.

For Iran, it’s simply, “Slower, please.”