Jeffrey LewisInformal EU3-Iran Steering Committee Meets in London

EU-Iran Steering Committee, December 2004.

What does it say about the Western press when IRNA is the best source of news about the ongoing EU-Iran negotiations?

The hoary press convention that every story needs a “hook” distorts reporting, creating a sense that every development is a crisis.

If Hossein Mousavian left the negotiating table to take a crap, Reuters would headline the movement as “EU-Iran Nuclear Dispute Talks Fail, More Planned.”

That’s a real Reuters headline from a few days ago. Here is the opening paragraph:

The European Union’s so-called “Big Three” and Iran failed to reach agreement over Tehran’s nuclear program on Friday but decided to hold more talks in the future.


“The informal talks have concluded. No conclusions were reached and both sides, the EU Three and Iran, have agreed to go away and reflect on what was discussed and to continue the discussions in future,” said a British Foreign Office spokesman.

Notice a tonal discrepancy between the headline and quote?

What has happened is pretty straightforward. The EU3-Iran negotiations comprise three ongoing working groups and a senior Steering Committee that meets every three months. The Steering Committee met in December and March. It is scheduled to meet again in June.

The meeting covered by Reuters was an informal meeting of the steering committee convened in London on 29 April 2005.

The working groups concerning nuclear, economic-technical, and political-security issues continue, with little apparent progess. The EU may be stalling until after Iran’s 17 June 2005 presidential election. “We don’t want to break things up now and have a row. We want to continue the negotiating process after the Iranian election,” a European diplomat told Reuters. (Iran arguably did the same thing regarding the US election in November 2004).

Iran threatened to resume “some” uranium activities—probably uranium conversion at Isfahan. The Iranian negotiators may be attempting to keep the EU from stalling. Iran has said it will not resume enrichment, which suggests someone in Tehran wants to avoid collapsing the talks:

“Very certainly we will resume some of our activities,” foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told reporters.

“We are in the process of discussing among ourselves which activities, but this does not concern enrichment,” he said, adding the leadership would make a decision within seven or eight days.

“The negotiations are continuing, and as long as they continue the suspension of enrichment will continue,” Asefi said.

This strikes me as a typical diplomatic threat to discourage thee other party from perceived stalling. I wish Reuters would report it that way.

Paul Adds: Iran’s suspension agreement pertains to its entire program and explicitly excludes uranium conversion. According to the November 2004 agreement, the suspension includes:

… all enrichment related and reprocessing activities, and specifically: the manufacture and import of gas centrifuges and their components; the assembly, installation, testing or operation of gas centrifuges; work to undertake any plutonium separation, or to construct or operate any plutonium separation installation; and all tests or production at any uranium conversion installation.

Iran has, of course, dicked around with the suspension before, but uranium conversion would be a big step.