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Editorial: Could nuke talks work this time?

Saeed Jalili Iran's chief nuclear negotiator chats with European UniForeign Policy Chief Catherine AshtonWednesday Baghdad Iraq.  |  Hadi

Saeed Jalili, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, chats with European Union Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashtonon on Wednesday in Baghdad, Iraq. | Hadi Mizban~AP

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Updated: July 3, 2012 10:32AM

That most fragile of flowers, hope, has certainly not blossomed, but at least broken through the surface in that most unlikely of places, the barren desert that has been the on-again, off-again negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program.

We don’t want to sound Pollyanna-ish here, but we think that it’s possible that this time just might be different.

Unlike in the past, the latest talks in Baghdad didn’t collapse when it became apparent the two sides wouldn’t produce a breakthrough.

Iran agreed to meet again in Moscow on June 18 and 19 with the six powers — the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany.

More talk is good.

Moscow will mark the third round in the renewed negotiations that began in Istanbul in April. Not only did they agree to meet, but both sides made comments indicating — again not conviction of success — but a determination to go on because it might be possible to achieve something this time.

“What we have now is some common ground, and a meeting in place where we can take that further forward,” said Catherine Ashton on the European Union, the lead negotiator for the six powers.

The chief Iranian negotiator, Saeed Jalili, characterized the Baghdad meeting as positive.

Make no mistake about it, the two sides are far apart.

The allied nations want Iran to suspend enrichment of uranium to 20 percent (the threshold for further fast processing to weapons grade); to send out of the country its current enriched stock, and to open up an underground nuclear facility to international inspection.

Iran insists on the world recognizing its claimed right to enrich uranium, something the six powers say they can’t accept and a right they say does not exist under an international nuclear treaty.

The stakes are incredibly high.

A nuclear-armed Iran would give Tehran, the world’s No. 1 state supporter of terrorism, a shield from behind which it could wreak havoc in the Middle East and beyond. Its entry into the nuclear club would spark an arms race as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and others in the region sought their own atomic bombs.

Just the continued work by Iran on nuclear weapons could set off a regional war if the United States or Israel decided the only way to stop that project was a military strike. Already hawks in both countries express impatience with negotiations. And it’s possible Iran is trying to run out the clock, using negotiations as a stalling tactic.

Still, it’s not only the positive comments at the end of the Baghdad meeting that suggest this time may be different. Both sides have reasons to want a resolution.

Iran’s economy is withering under the weight of international sanctions. And the toughest are still to come — a ban on importing Iranian oil by the European Union, one of Tehran’s biggest customers.

Iran also is seeing its political influence eroded in the Middle East with the strife in Syria.

In the United States and among its western allies, no one wants another war. We’re war-weary after a decade in Afghanistan and nearly that long in Iraq.

And this Memorial Day, as we commemorate the sacrifice of the thousands of dead and wounded from those two wars, is a good time to remember that negotiations and patience should be given every reasonable chance to succeed.

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