This may not be as meaningful as it sounds. Secretary of State John Kerry could have meant that the US was ready to hold bilateral talks with Irazakhstan. Just kidding — Kerry meant Iran, and intended to dangle the possibility after this week’s P-5+1 talks with Tehran’s representative on the nuclear question. The renewed offer of direct talks with Iran resulted from a burst of optimism from Saeed Jalili, who offered rare praise for an offer of resolution and a commitment to continuing the talks:
World powers and Iran ended two days of talks over the Islamic Republic’s disputed nuclear program with a pledge to hold further discussions starting next month.
Iran’s negotiator, Saeed Jalili, called the two-day session in Almaty, Kazakhstan a “turning point” and said a “more realistic and logical” proposal was made to Iran. He didn’t give details. Technical talks will be held in Istanbul on March 18, and political discussions with the so-called P5+1 — the U.S., U.K., France, Germany, China and Russia — will resume in Almaty on April 5, Jalili told reporters. …
Jalili reiterated that Iran has the right to enrichment under an international treaty it signed. He said there was no justification for seeking the shutdown of Iran’s Fordo plant, which was built clandestinely in the side of a mountain and produces most of the country’s medium-enriched uranium, since it’s under inspection by the United Nations nuclear watchdog.
Ashton declined to say whether the P5+1 has dropped its earlier demand for the closing of Fordo.
According to Bloomberg, the EU’s representative stated that the group had offered a “balanced” proposal that was “responsive” to Iranian demands. And while Tehran mulls over that proposal, Kerry dangled a carrot — or at least what he hopes is a carrot:
Secretary of State John Kerry said on Wednesday that two days of nuclear talks between Iran and world powers had been useful and said a serious engagement by Iran could lead to a longer-term, comprehensive agreement.
Kerry, who was in Paris meeting the French president and his counterpart Laurent Fabius during a tour of Europe, repeated that Washington was ready to hold bilateral talks with Iran.
That’s not a new offer, but it’s an important gesture … if Iran is serious about dealing on nuclear weapons. The US drives what sanction policy actually takes place in the world, and we hold a lot of financial and trade cards. Iran’s economy is sinking like a stone, and its currency is in meltdown thanks to trade sanctions. The situation might end up sparking another Iranian revolution if the mullahs can’t talk their way out of the sanctions regime, and the nuclear weapons may not be as important to them as their own survival. That assumes, though, that the Iranian mullahcracy wanted nuclear weapons for rational reasons (survival, regional influence) and not non-rational reasons (religious belief in a global conflagration delivering the Twelfth Imam).
There’s also the possibility that Iran doesn’t want bilateral relations with the “Great Satan,” which would make Kerry’s renewed offer a quaintly amusing footnote. They could cooperate with Europe to lift the sanctions if they trade away nuclear-weapons development, and still refuse to engage the US. After 34 years of propaganda in Iran, it might be a tough sell for even the mullahs to suddenly commit to normal relations with the US without creating even greater political instability. The offer doesn’t hurt, either, but only if we’re making it with a large helping of skepticism about its value to Iran.
All of this is predicated on the basis that Iran is negotiating in good faith at all. As we have seen in those 34 years, that’s usually not the case. This will likely be less of a “turning point” in any real sense than just another dilatory tactic for Tehran to get enough time to develop its nukes.