Baghdad Talks between Iran and the six global powers are set to start this morning. The talks are the latest of a series of meetings between the two sides on the future of Iran’s nuclear program. But up to now these meetings have been about setting up future meetings and their success or failure have been defined in terms of atmospherics, especially if the American and Iranian delegations were nice to each other or not. Baghdad promises to break away from this trend and offer the first consequential talks between the two sides.
Even before the Baghdad Talks got underway, we witnessed a likely breakthrough in IAEA’s push to have free access to inspect the country’s nuclear and relevant military sites. A so-called framework agreement, defining an additional protocol on IAEA’s access to the sites, nuclear officials and scientists and documents, were hammered out during IAEA director’s visit to Tehran on Monday and is reportedly getting ready to be signed soon. Such access would be key to an agreement in Baghdad to begin the process of ending the decade-old dispute with Iran over the nature of its nuclear program, which has resulted in serious economic sanctions against the country.
If IAEA-Iran additional protocol agreement is signed soon, as expected, then the Iranians, starting later today in Baghdad, will demand easing of the biting sanctions. The demand would create a challenge for the West. There were the sanctions, they would argue, that led Iran to accept the IAEA demands, and lifting them now would take away their trump card to push Iran to stop enriching uranium at purities higher than five percent and stop the operations at Fordo enrichment facility. Not easing the sanctions, however, would not entice the Iranians to make any further concessions. So we should expect an agreement in Baghdad that ties the easing of sanctions, especially delaying the oil-related sanctions that are to go into effect at the end of June, to the signing and implementation of the additional protocol with IAEA.
Such agreement could well lead to a more comprehensive agreement at Baghdad on an end to Iran’s production of 20-percent fuel and a guarantee by the major powers to supply the country the needed fuel for its nuclear research reactor in Tehran. Iran could also accept a swap agreement to exchange most of its five-percent enriched uranium with the higher purity fuel on an on-going basis.
Baghdad could well become the beginning of an end to the decade-old standoff over the future of Iran's nuclear program.