On 14 April, the international community meets in Istanbul for a new round of talks with Iran on its nuclear programme. As one of the six negotiating powers, we approach the negotiating table in the spirit of cooperation, ready and willing to make progress on an issue that has significant implications for the entire region. I urge Iran to seize this opportunity and demonstrate they are ready to talk meaningfully about our concerns.
I doubt anyone is unaware of the urgent need for these talks. The international community has serious and long-standing concerns about Iran’s nuclear programme, which the Iranian Government has failed to address for many years.
Iran has repeatedly failed to comply with its obligations towards the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and has failed to answer serious questions the IAEA has about possible military dimensions to its programme.
We are seriously concerned that Iran appears to be aiming to enrich far more uranium to nearly 20% than they would need for purely civilian purposes.
We also know that Iran has a site near Qom which has tripled their capacity to enrich uranium to near 20%. This site has been built under a mountain and was never intended to be made public. Iranian secrecy around its nuclear programme only serves to deepen our concerns that they are trying to build a nuclear weapon.
Set alongside the regime’s support for violent groups in the region and brutal suppression of its own people, we are right to be concerned about how Iran would behave if it had a nuclear weapon and we are right to put pressure on the regime to comply with their international legal obligations.
The next few months will see the introduction of the toughest sanctions yet on the Iranian regime. The EU and USA have both agreed sanctions affecting the purchase of Iranian oil. As a result, we have already seen countries around the world decreasing their dependence on Iranian oil. This has had a significant impact on the Iranian economy and has shocked the Iranian leadership. The pressure from oil sanctions will only increase over the coming months as more countries reduce their imports.
These sanctions are about encouraging the Iranian regime to come to the table, not about punishing the Iranian people. The Iranian regime should be in no doubt that we will keep up this pressure until we are confident their nuclear programme is purely peaceful.
Alongside increasing the pressure on the regime to negotiate, we are working more widely to help reduce tensions in the region and support a nuclear weapons free region. We are working to promote a successful conference later this year on the creation of a Middle East Weapon of Mass Destruction (WMD) Free Zone.
As our top diplomats meet in Istanbul today, we are serious in our willingness to engage with Iran. But we go into these talks with our eyes open. The story from previous talks has been depressingly familiar - Iranian posturing, delaying tactics, and in the end a failure to negotiate in good faith. If Iran offers nothing but preconditions that ignore six UN Security Council resolutions, the result will be decreased confidence from the international community and another lost opportunity for a diplomatic solution.
We have no hidden agenda on this issue. We are not seeking regime change. What we want is a peaceful and negotiated solution. If Iran cooperates, our offer to provide help in a number of areas, including with the development of civil nuclear power stations, still stands.
The onus is on Iran to prove to us it is serious this time. It is a welcome sign that Iran has said it is now willing to discuss the nuclear issue. This is a small shift that we want to test and explore. We hope these talks will be the start of a process of dialogue with a positive outcome. We enter into them in that spirit; the Iranians should too.
This article was originally published in Al Hayat.