The recent meeting in Geneva between Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany (P5+1) is proof that a rational dialogue conducted without preconditions is a far better way of resolving a dispute than the issuing of threats and diktats. It is too early to say whether the corner has been turned. But Iran’s willingness to send a major part of its accumulated stocks of low-enriched uranium (LEU) to Russia for further enrichment and ultimate use for medical purposes within the country is a major confidence-building measure. The Tehran Research Reactor (TRR) needs LEU enriched to 19.75 per cent for the production of molybdenum 99 (99Mo), a key isotope used in medical imaging procedures for cancer diagnostics. The fact that Iran has decided not to exercise its right to enrich uranium beyond the 3.5 per cent level currently being produced by its Natanz facility ought to help allay Washington’s suspicions about the true nature of the Iranian nuclear programme. More than that, by agreeing to use its existing LEU as the feedstock for Russia’s eventual supply of enriched uranium for the TRR, Iran is telling the west that its fears about some future diversion of Natanz throughput for weapons purposes are unfounded.
For those sections of the U.S. and Israeli establishments that were trying to build a case that the Iranian civil nuclear programme posed a clear and present danger to the region and the world, Tehran’s willingness to send its LEU stocks out of the country should be an eye-opener. Iran has also agreed to the International Atomic Energy Agency’s request for a speedy preliminary visit to the new enrichment facility being built near Qom. In exchange for these Iranian gestures, the U.S. has decided not to press ahead with fresh coercive moves for the time being, though its ability to get the UNSC, let alone the P5+1, to agree to more sanctions, is itself questionable. The Geneva meeting was also significant because it represented the first proper political contact between the Obama administration and Iran. A second meeting to tie up the arrangements for the TRR deal will take place later this month. Once that happens and the contrived urgency with which Washington was dealing with the Iranian issue abates, one hopes President Obama will come good on his campaign promise to engage Tehran across the full range of issues that have kept the two sides estranged for three decades now. The Nobel peace prize was awarded to him, in part, because of the welcome change his administration represents over that of his predecessors. Resolving 30 years of mistrust will not be easy for either side but a sincere start must be made, and made soon.