Capping backstage talks among major powers on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi on Sunday accepted the U.S. offer of talks in Kazakhstan on February 25 to end the standoff over Tehran’s nuclear programme.
But he insisted on “authentic and honest intentions” on the part of the U.S.
“I have good news. I heard yesterday [on Saturday] that the 5+1 or EU 3+3 will be meeting in Kazakhstan on February 25… Yes, we are ready for negotiations… [as long as] the other side this time comes with authentic intentions… If there is an honest intention on the other side, we will take that into serious consideration,” Mr. Salehi told an audience, consisting mostly of security and foreign policy managers from major nations, on the final day of the conference.
Iran believed that it was “wise to turn your enemies into friends,” Mr. Salehi said. “We attach a lot of importance to our own independence.”
That there was a thaw was evident from statements made on Saturday by three of the six countries involved in the talks. U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden set the ball rolling, saying Washington was prepared for a dialogue, provided the Iranian leadership, especially its Supreme Leader, was serious about meaningful talks.
Mr. Biden was followed by the German and Russian Foreign Ministers, Guido Westerwelle and Sergei Lavrov, both speaking up against a military option. Mr. Westerwelle said time was running out, while Mr. Lavrov wanted a regional security conference, with the participation of the six countries involved in the talks, to allay Iran’s apprehensions.
Mr. Salehi’s response was as conditional as Mr. Biden’s offer.
The Vice-President had told the conference: “There has to be an agenda that they’re prepared to speak to. We’re not prepared to do it just for the exercise… There is still time, there is still space for diplomacy backed by pressure to succeed.”
Mr. Salehi, who had to face awkward questions from the audience, positioned Iran as an important regional player — the “golden key” to the region — and reiterated that Tehran took the U.S. overture positively.
He was repeatedly challenged by the predominantly Western audience about Iran’s actions and statements in respect of its neighbours. A representative of the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria wanted to know why Tehran was supporting the Bashar Assad regime in Damascus and plying it with weapons. German parliamentarian Ruprecht Polenz took on Mr. Salehi over his statement about respect and demanded why Iran did not extend a similar courtesy to other neighbours, especially Israel.
That it will not be a smooth sailing was also evident from the observations of the outgoing Israeli Defence Minister, Ehud Barak. Speaking at a separate panel discussion, Mr. Barak said his country and its allies were determined to prevent Iran from turning nuclear and, referring to Israel’s as-yet unacknowledged air strike in Syria, he warned chillingly that “no option should be taken off the table.”
Israel has not owned up to its air strike in Syria, but Mr. Barak seemed to confirm it. “Whatever took place in Syria some days ago is proof that when we say something, we mean it. We say none should be allowed to bring advanced weapons systems into Lebanon.”
Mr. Barak warned that an Iran with nuclear weapons would mean the “end of any conceivable non-proliferation [regime] not just in the region but in the whole world.”