Iran talks: Time for a bold new approach?

After a decade of futile meetings and countless hours of airtime spent on Iran's nuclear issue, it may be time to consider a different strategy.


    It has been 48 hours since talks between the UN's nuclear watchdog and Iran ended without progress.

    In that time, the Iranians have revealed little about what went on in those talks and the IAEA has done the same.

    The only clue that may shed some light on what might happen next is buried deep within an Iranian state news agency report.

    There's a quote from Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA): "We need time and patience and quiet environment, therefore, I request and appeal to all to let the agency and Iran do their work wisely."

    "Wisely" is a telling word.

    It implies that things aren't as bad as many would predict, but it also allows for wiggle room if things turn completely sour.

    The talks aren't completely dead. Both sides have said they will meet again, but no date has been decided.

    What is at stake is access to the Parchin military facility.

    The Iranians insist it's a military site and therefore not on the table. Western diplomats are not so sure.

    The problem is the whole thing has become political.

    With so much focus on Parchin, the Iranians want to make sure that any agreement to allow inspectors to visit is watertight and clearly defined.

    You can understand why. The IAEA has visited the site before, in 2005. Back then they were given partial access to the site.

    That they want to visit it again is a sign Iranian analysts say is - at the very least - anecdotal evidence of Western intelligence agencies spreading disinformation and putting pressure on Iran.

    Like I said, the whole thing is now political. The clock is ticking.

    Talks futile?

    Further talks are scheduled between Iran and the so called "P5+1" - the permanent members of the UN security council plus Germany - in Moscow on June 18 and 19.

    Given the highly charged atmosphere, are those talks now futile?

    Trita Parsi is a seasoned Iranian analyst and author of the book A Single Roll of the Dice: Obama's Diplomacy with Iran.

    He thinks not, but it could do with a new approach: "Moscow is not dead, but the failure of Iran to reach and agreement with the IAEA will further push the two sides apart. Neither side is willing to take a first step. Iran could gain a lot if it did take that first step."

    But why won't the Iranians take that step?

    "Both sides are afraid that if they take a first confidence-building step that is irreversible, and it doesn't get reciprocated, then they will lose rather than gain leverage. The Iranians have no faith in Obama's ability to give concessions."

    But could that be changing?

    There are reports that suggest US President Barack Obama is considering a different strategy on Iran.

    Some commentators have described it as a "Go Big" approach.

    On the surface, it seems like a good idea. By putting forward broader proposals to Iran, you might be able to get a breakthrough.

    Others though, point to the recent past and say that unless a radical reframing of the talks is put in place, no amount of window dressing will yield a breakthrough.  

    New approach

    So far, there seems to be no details on what an American "Go Big" approach might be. But, it does beg the obvious questions:

    Is it time for new approach?

    One that is bigger and bolder than before?

    Is it time for the West to call Iran's play?

    Offer them something substantial over the sanctions, such as vitally needed spare parts for civilian aircraft?

    Maybe even an ease on some of the banking restrictions?

    Offer a carrot so the Iranians have to react. Put it on the table for the Moscow talks.

    Or is it time for Iranians to back up their words and offer access to facilities, and allow freedom of movement for the inspectors?

    Something that will bust the stalemate?

    It is, of course, naïve to think that such a bold, unilateral approach could work.

    But after a decade of futility, after endless meetings, thousands of words and countless hours of airtime, perhaps bold is what's needed.

    Sadly, in international diplomacy, bold is not a concept that seems to be encouraged.



    How different voting systems work around the world

    How different voting systems work around the world

    Nearly two billion voters in 52 countries around the world will head to the polls this year to elect their leaders.

    How Moscow lost Riyadh in 1938

    How Moscow lost Riyadh in 1938

    Russian-Saudi relations could be very different today, if Stalin hadn't killed the Soviet ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

    The great plunder: Nepal's stolen treasures

    The great plunder: Nepal's stolen treasures

    How the art world's hunger for ancient artefacts is destroying a centuries-old culture. A journey across the Himalayas.