DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — As Iran’s president crafts his talking points for his annual trip to New York, one message is likely to remain near the top: Tehran has not closed the door on nuclear dialogue and is ready to resume negotiations with world powers.
The offer is not very different from those coming out of Washington and other capitals. The challenge is figuring out how to overcome the huge divides after three rounds of high-level meetings since April failed to make headway.
Questions over whether the diplomatic effort still has a pulse will closely follow Mahmoud Ahmadinejad during his time at the U.N. General Assembly later this month — his last as Iranian president before elections next June for his successor. His expected speeches and interviews will be scrutinized for any hint Iran is softening its positions on the nuclear talks as Western sanctions bite deeper and Israeli leaders contemplate military action dismiss diplomacy as a dead end.
For the moment, Iran appears to favor a strategy of pumping just enough life into the prospect of renewed dialogue.
Officials in Tehran have kept open channels with the U.N. nuclear agency and European Union envoys over possibilities to restart the talks with the five permanent Security Council members plus Germany.
And the nations involved in the talks all hope to avoid an Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear facilities — and the possibility of igniting a larger war.
“In that sense, cold gridlock is better than hot combat,” said Karim Sadjadpour, an Iranian affairs expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
But it’s also clear that Iran has not publicly backed off its demands from the previous failed rounds. They include recognition of Iran’s right for uranium enrichment — at the center of the nuclear standoff — and calls for the U.S. and its European allies to ease the sanctions that have hit Iran’s critical oil exports and left it blackballed from key international banking networks. Last week, Iran received at least a symbolic boost when the 120-nation Nonaligned Movement, meeting in Tehran, backed Iran’s claims of seeking a peaceful nuclear program.
The West, meanwhile, has stuck with its blueprint of what’s been described as “stop, shut and ship.”
The mainstay is forcing Iran to halt enrichment uranium to 20 percent purity, which is much closer to weapons grade than the 3.5 percent needed for Iran’s lone electricity-producing reactor. Iran would also have to close its underground Fordo enrichment site south of Tehran — far smaller than Iran’s main enrichment facility but believed virtually impervious to air attack — and ship abroad its stockpile of 20 percent-enriched uranium.
During the last talks in June in Moscow, the West tried to sweeten the package by offering to waive sanctions on airplane parts and other goods. A former Iranian nuclear negotiator, Hossein Mousavian, described it as offering peanuts in return for diamonds.
“Tehran is not hopeful about the talks,” said Sergei Barseghian, a commentator at the independent Etemad newspaper in Tehran. “Sanctions and military threats have been increased since the last round of negotiations.”
Still, Ahmadinejad will arrive in the U.S. with all sides clinging to the diplomatic efforts — and with perhaps some extra breathing room against a possible Israeli military strike.