The meeting in Istanbul stands out from past meetings for a number of reasons.
First, the fact that the talks are being held in Istanbul marks a significant foreign policy victory for Tehran given its growing political isolation.
Second, Iran has tried to create rifts between the mediators in the run-up to the talks. Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's permanent representative at the IAEA, offered Russia, China, Hungary (which current holds the EU's rotating presidency) and some other nations to tour the uranium enrichment facilities in Natanz and the heavy water research reactor that is being built at Arak.
The invitation was accepted only by representatives of Venezuela, Syria, the Group of 77 developing nations, the Non-Aligned Movement and the Arab League, who visited these nuclear sites on January 16. Meanwhile, representatives of the six international mediators and the EU met in London to coordinate their positions on the Iranian nuclear program.
Third, Dmitry Medvedev and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad spoke on the phone four days before the meeting. During the conversation, the leaders discussed the importance of expanding bilateral cooperation, particularly on energy and transportation. On January 19, Russian and Iranian deputy foreign ministers Sergei Ryabkov and Mohammad Mehdi Akhundzadeh held talks in Moscow, after which Mr. Ryabkov stated that Russia and Iran hold the same position on an array of regional and international issues.
While Iran had indeed been busy in the run-up to the talks in Istanbul, its efforts have not met with much success. The problem is that Iran lost credibility on the world stage after its underground enrichment facility in Fordo, near the holy city of Qom, was revealed and the true scale of its nuclear program became known. Construction on the secret facility has been ongoing since 2006.
Moreover, Iran's nuclear program lacks a solid economic rationale. Iran's only nuclear reactor that generates powers is at the Bushehr nuclear power plant, which Russia has offered to supply with fuel for its entire service life. Iran's research reactors do not require such an extensive nuclear program, and Iran's nuclear fuel needs could be easily met with imports provided it meets its obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the 1997 IAEA Additional Protocol and the modified Code 3.1 of the NPT Safeguards Agreement.
However, Iran's continued refusal to live up to these obligations creates well-grounded suspicions that it is pursuing nuclear weapons. Tehran's stalling tactics and intransigence only serve to deepen these suspicions.
During these nuclear talks, Iran attempts to change the topic. Instead of engaging on its nuclear program, it raises general or regional issues, for example, worldwide nuclear disarmament and the destabilizing effect of Israel's missile and nuclear capability on the Middle East. By focusing on such irresolvable issues, Iran wins more time for itself to overcome the technical problems in its nuclear program. This process could drag on forever.
Russia should seize the moment and propose a way out of this nuclear deadlock. A joint Russian-Iranian facility set up in Iran to produce nuclear fuel for the Bushehr nuclear power plant is one possible solution. Such an arrangement would guarantee Iran a source of certified fuel for its nuclear power plant, while the international community would be able to continuously monitor Iran's use of uranium-based nuclear materials produced inside the country and ensure that it uses up its stock of low-enriched uranium.
A strong argument in favor of this course is provided by the additional protocol to the Russian-Iranian intergovernmental agreement to build a nuclear power plant in Iran, which entered into force in February 2005. Under this protocol, Iran is to return its spent nuclear fuel from the Bushehr HPP to Russia, preventing Tehran from building plutonium-based weapons.
There is a way out from the nuclear deadlock but it will require mutual concessions. Much will depend on whether Moscow will be able to overcome the vested interest of the Rosatom state nuclear energy corporation in selling nuclear fuel to Iran. Moscow will also have to convince its Western partners that this is the best compromise. Regardless of the outcome, Russia will raise its international profile by taking charge of this issue.
Vladimir Yevseyev is director of the Center for Social and Political Research.
The views expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.