Two days of negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program begin Tuesday in Geneva between Tehran, the United States and five other world powers.
They are the first negotiations since Iran elected a new president in June, and Hassan Rouhani has taken a more moderate tone than his predecessor.
The negotiators arrived on Tuesday, with Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Zarif heading up the Iranian delegation and senior State Department diplomat Wendy Sherman leading the U.S. team.
CBS News correspondent Elizabeth Palmer reported the Iranians began the morning meeting by giving a PowerPoint presentation laying out their proposal — and crucially the points on which they’re prepared to compromise — for the future of their nuclear program. Not long after the presentation, the negotiating teams took a break, giving them all time to mull over Tehran’s presentation.
During the break, Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi told reporters his delegation was, “not here to waste our time, we are serious for real target-oriented negotiations between Iran and the other side, and we believe that the plan that we have introduced has the capacity to reach that.”
Heading into the summit, however, there was significant skepticism in the U.S. of Rouhani’s expressed desire to end the standoff over Western claims that the Islamic Republic’s civilian nuclear program is actually a front for weapons development. Many American lawmakers have made it clear that they’ll resist any effort by the Obama administration to ease the sanctions against Iran at this early stage in the apparent thaw in relations without solid commitments from Tehran — with many calling for a complete halt to uranium enrichment before any sanctions are lifted.
“What has brought this to pass, what has got Rouhani to the negotiating table, are the existing sanctions,” Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) told CBS News. “We have to have that leverage in place and make sure they know we’re serious.”
Despite the caution, officials said there was a mood of cautious optimism heading into Geneva that the talks — unlike all the rounds that have gone before — might actually bring progress.
Palmer says the brand-new Iranian president could not have signaled more strongly that this is a new era; There was the landmark phone call with President Obama, the public commitment to resolving the nuclear standoff, and at home, Rouhani has been pushing back at his own hawks. He went so far as to tell the powerful, conservative Revolutionary Guard Corps in a speech that he expected them to stay out of politics, and he seemed to have the backing on that position of the man who holds ultimate power in Iran: Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
So how soon could there be a bargain? Not likely this week, said Palmer. This is just the curtain raiser — the hammer and tongs horse trading will go on for weeks — or possibly even months.