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- "Hole"/ Saba Vasefi
- When it comes to Syria and Hezbollah, Israel is walking a tightrope
- IRGC: World now eying Iranian regime's resistance
- Two Iranians in Kenya found guilty of bomb plots
- Iran develops rocket-launcher submarine, smart ships
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- Why Iran Is Trying to Save the Syrian Regime
Monday 16 April 2012
Financial Times -- Catherine Ashton, the European ’s foreign policy chief, has long endured a mixed press in Britain for the way she handles her considerable portfolio.
But it would be wrong not to note the genuine plaudits she received from a number of diplomats over the weekend for the way she managed Saturday’s talks between Iran and world powers in Istanbul.
As co-ordinator of the six powers which negotiate with Iran over its nuclear programme (the US, UK, France, Germany, Russia and China), Ashton has a difficult role.
These six countries have long had differing views over how to treat Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
At one end lies France, which wants the fullest possible pressure put on Iran to dismantle its programme. At the other end are Russia and China, which often respond positively to modest concessions by the Iranians. The British and Americans are in the middle, “tough but willing to be creative in their approach to Iran” as one observer puts it.
In Istanbul last Saturday, Ashton impressed diplomats from the six powers on two fronts. First she faced down a last minute attempt on Saturday by Saeed Jaleeli, Iran’s nuclear negotiator, to get the six to make a binding commitment to roll back existing sanctions if Iran comes up with concessions in the next few weeks.
“Jaleeli tried to get Cathy to make specific commitments to lift sanctions in exchange for any future stuff we may get from the Iranian side,” said a diplomat who is not part of Ashton’s EU team. “Cathy resisted going down that road, not because we’re against reciprocity in principle but because this process is a big thing and grabbing a last minute commitment late on a Saturday evening isn’t the way to do it. For that, she did really well.”
The second achievement by Ashton was to establish something of a rapport with Jaleeli, not the easiest thing to do given his tendency to use 100 words when 10 will do. On Friday night, both met for a three hour dinner ahead of the talks, at which she found him more congenial than he has been in the past.
“Then, in the final stages of Saturday,” says a diplomat, “They consulted each other ahead of making their final statements. Each told the other how they would want to wrap up the day’s events.”
Relations between the Jaleeli delegation and the six powers are not easy.
One diplomat described the somewhat surreal scene at the buffet lunch in Istanbul’s conference centre on Saturday. “Ashton and the six political directors were at one end of the room having lunch. Jaleeli and his team were at the other. There was no contact at all.”
Nor will things get any easier at the next meeting in Baghdad in five weeks’ time. Baghdad will be the moment when the hard bargaining really begins. Yet four of the six political directors will arrive in Iraq’s capital having just done the G8 summit in Camp David and the Nato summit in Chicago.
Still, this was always going to be a tough diplomatic game in the final stages. The good news for Ashton is that she has the respect of some pretty experienced diplomats round the table who think that, on Iran, she’s not doing a bad job at all.