Seeking talks with Iran one more time

Iran and the five permanent member nations of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany (P5-plus-1) held talks in Istanbul on April 14 and agreed that they would start full talks from May 23 in Baghdad over the issue of Iran’s nuclear program.

Although the Istanbul meeting did not produce immediate results, it is hoped that it will have the effect of kick-starting the process of building mutual trust between Iran and the Western powers.

The last meeting between Iran and the six powers was held in January 2011, followed by 15 months of a diplomatic vacuum. In the meantime, Iran pushed its nuclear program and Israel started talking about possible strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities.

In January, the International Atomic Energy Agency said that medium-level uranium enrichment had started at the Fordo facility near Qom in northern Iran, and that it could “confirm that Iran has started the production of uranium enriched up to 20 percent.”

Iran reportedly possesses more than 100 kg of uranium enriched to about 20 percent.

Possession of uranium enriched to about 20 percent does not immediately lead to the production of nuclear weapons. But if the report is true, Iran is just several steps away from being able to develop nuclear weapons.

Iran’s advancement of its nuclear program has caused increased tensions between Iran and the United States. It may be said that U.S. patience with Iran is nearing its limit.

On the other hand, Iran’s distrust of the Western powers will likely deepen further as well. The U.S. is scheduled to start Iran-related financial sanctions on June 28, and the European Union will impose a total embargo on oil imports from Iran from July 1.

In Iran, there is a perception that the U.S. and Britain are trying to change the Iranian regime. But Iran should refrain from rhetoric that will further increase tensions, such as hinting that it might blockade the Strait of Hormuz.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who led the six powers at the Istanbul meeting, said Iran has the right to a peaceful nuclear program, but that it should stop production of enriched uranium beyond the amount needed for medical purposes.

The Baghdad meeting will be crucial. Its failure could trigger Israeli airstrikes against Iran.

Both Iran and the Western powers should make serious efforts to solve the problem through dialogue. Japan should seek ways to help facilitate a successful outcome.