8 December, 2009 — Middle East Report Online
(Farideh Farhi is an independent researcher and an affiliate graduate faculty of political science at the University of Hawai’i-Manoa.)
For background on the Iranian politics surrounding uranium enrichment, see Farideh Farhi, ‘Ahmadinejad’s Nuclear Folly,’
Middle East Report 252 (Fall 2009).
According to the headline writers at the hardline daily Keyhan, October 2 saw ‘a great victory for Iran’ in Geneva. That day, Iran’s nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili had sat down with representatives of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany, the contact group known as the ‘P5+1,’ as well as the European Union, and the hardliners were in a mood for self-congratulation. Arch-conservative Keyhan editor Hossein Shariatmadari titled his commentary, ‘We Did Not Back Down; They Were Cut Down to Size.’
Shariatmadari wrote that in Geneva Jalili had cleverly diverted inquiry into Iran’s nuclear research program, managing to keep the participants focused on regional security, energy, trade and global nuclear non-proliferation. In fact, Jalili had discussed the nuclear topic in great depth, agreeing in principle that Iran would transfer approximately three quarters of its low-enriched uranium (LEU) to Russia for further enrichment, and then to France for processing into fuel rods to power the Tehran Research Reactor, which manufactures medical isotopes. But the Keyhan editor insisted this agreement was no impingement upon Iran’s rights. To the contrary, he argued, Jalili had gained an implicit acceptance of the enrichment program by the P5+1, including Iran’s nemesis, the United States, something the hardliners’ opponents within the Islamic Republic had failed to do over years of ‘concessions.’
Declarations in the West were less triumphal but nevertheless quite positive. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs described the Geneva talks as a ‘constructive start.’ A few commentators used the word ‘breakthrough.’