Clinton calls fresh talks with Iran 'serious'

Barak due to meet US Defense Secretary Panetta in Washington, says he is doubtful diplomacy will succeed.

Barak with Colombian President Santos 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Barak with Colombian President Santos 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
WASHINGTON – US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the fresh round of talks with Iran “serious” on Monday, but said that Tehran would have to take more concrete action before sanctions would be eased.
Clinton was speaking at a press conference in Brazil following talks between Iran and the P5+1 – France, Germany, Russia, the UK, US and China – this weekend in Istanbul, the first such negotiations in more than a year.
“The initial discussions between the P5+1 and Iran were serious and focused on the nuclear issue,” Clinton said.
Her comments stood in contrast to the American reaction to the last round of consultations, during which the Iranians would not address the nuclear issue and the West spoke of frustration with the lack of progress made.
The two sides agreed to meet again in Baghdad at the end of May, Clinton noted.
But asked whether the US would consider easing sanctions – a move the Iranians indicated would help facilitate negotiations – Clinton rejected the notion.
“I believe in action for action. But I think in this case, the burden of action falls on the Iranians to demonstrate their seriousness,” she said. “And we’re going to keep the sanctions in place and the pressure on Iran as they consider what they’ll bring to the table in Baghdad, and we’ll respond accordingly.”
Iran agreed to reenter talks after the US and EU began to impose the most extreme sanctions to date, a move that many experts credit with pushing Iran to come back to the negotiating table.
Some critics of the administration were less positive about the talks than Clinton. Elliott Abrams, senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) and a former George W. Bush White House adviser, attacked Clinton’s assessment that the talks were “serious.”
“How was it that Iran’s seriousness was tested in a meeting where no concrete proposals appear to have been made, much less agreed to?” Abrams asked in a CFR analysis. “The fact that there appear to have been no concrete proposals discussed, yet the next meeting is delayed now for five weeks, suggests skepticism about Iranian ‘seriousness.’”
He added that the next round of talks could well lead to a further meeting over the summer.
“After all, if concrete proposals are tabled one mustn’t rush the Iranians; they must have time to take them home to Tehran and think them through,” he wrote.
Abrams concluded, “It appears that all present have at least one common goal: making an Israeli strike harder.”
But Defense Minister Ehud Barak emphasized on Tuesday that even while nuclear negotiations are underway, Israeli military action against Iran remains an option.
Speaking to Army Radio, Barak voiced strong doubts whether the talks, that began in Istanbul on Saturday, would succeed.
“It does not look to me as if it is going to happen – not now, in the wake of Istanbul, and not... after the [talks in Baghdad next month].”
Barak is due to meet US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in Washington on Thursday amid speculation that Israel has promised its main ally that it will refrain from attacking Iran while the talks continue.
“We are not committing to anything,” Barak said, when asked whether any such pledge had been made. “There is not, there has not been, there should not be and there cannot be [such a promise].”
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Barak has said that Iran could soon enter a “zone of immunity” against Israeli attack as it puts its nuclear installations deep underground, comments that raised international concern that a strike could be nearing.
In the interview, he reiterated Israeli fears that the negotiations could drag on and waste what he described as “precious time.”