Iran warms to freeze-for-freeze plan
By Gareth Porter
WASHINGTON - A senior Iranian official reportedly told members of the Iranian
parliament on Monday that Iran had agreed to freeze its enrichment program for
six weeks and begin negotiations with the "Iran Six" group of states as early
as next week, according to reports of that decision by the Iranian Student News
Agency (ISNA) and by a Farsi-language website in Iran.
Remarks by Iranian Foreign Minister Manoucher Mottaki and a top adviser to
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Tuesday also seemed to indicate that
decision to accept a "freeze-for-freeze" proposal from the "Iran Six" to begin
at least preliminary negotiations.
The "Iran Six" consists of the permanent members of the UN
Security Council - the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia - and
The apparent Iranian decision comes in the wake of an atmosphere of heightened
threat of attack on Iran by Israel created by a series of moves by Israeli and
US officials in recent days.
The head of Iran's Atomic Energy Agency, Gholam-Reza Aghazadeh, told members of
the Majlis (parliament) energy committee on Monday that Iran had agreed to
start the talks, according to the Farsi-language Iranian website Fararou. It
said "informed sources" had specified that Iran had accepted a six-week freeze
on any expansion of enrichment as a condition on such negotiations, as proposed
by European Union foreign affairs chief Javier Solana.
The "Iran Six" proposal also offers to suspend further progress in advancing UN
sanctions against Iran. It does not, however, address sanctions organized
outside the UN Security Council framework.
ISNA reported in a brief item on Monday that an Iranian parliamentary energy
committee member, whom it did not name, had declared that Iran "has agreed to
start talks with the 5+1 ["Iran Six"] countries group". It added that the talks
"will begin next week".
Although ISNA did not report that the official had said Iran would freeze its
nuclear activities, in the sense of foregoing any increase in centrifuges, it
implied as much by reporting that the "Iran Six" proposal delivered by Solana
on June 14 "required Iran to suspend nuclear activities in exchange for a set
of economic and security incentives".
The news further quoted unnamed "Iranian officials" as saying that "common
points of the two packages can be a launching pad to start talks".
The Farsi-language website Fararou identified the member of the committee who
had quoted Aghazadeh as informing committee members that Iranian authorities
had agreed to negotiate with the "Iran Six" group as Seyed Admad Hosseini. It
was Hosseini who was quoted as telling reporters that the talks should start
Fararou also provided additional details on Aghazadeh's briefing. It said the
secretary of the Majlis energy committee, Moayyed Hosseini, told its reporter
that Aghazadeh had pointed to "positive aspects" of the negotiations with the
"Iran Six", "including the fact that the West was accepting Iran's possession
of 3,000 centrifuges".
That comment suggested that Tehran will present the "freeze-for-freeze"
proposal as a concession to Iran's right to enrich uranium.
The committee secretary was quoted by Fararou as stating flatly that the
proposal for a six-week freeze on enrichment "has been accepted by Tehran".
The same parliamentarian was quoted as saying the atomic energy chief had
declared that the "package" of proposals from the "Iran Six" was still being
studied and that Iran would respond by the end of the week.
The formal "Iran Six" proposal given to Iranian officials by Solana on June 14
was a repackaging of the mid-2006 proposal to Tehran. But it was accompanied by
a six-week "freeze-for-freeze" proposal under which Iran would not increase the
level of its enrichment efforts and the "Iran Six" would freeze the movement
towards tougher sanctions against Iran, according to diplomats in London quoted
by Reuters on June 21.
That would enable "pre-negotiations" to begin between the two sides on
"parameters for formal negotiations", according to the diplomats.
Beginning formal negotiations, however, was said to require that Iran "fully
suspend" enrichment, meaning that it would actually temporarily halt the
The formal negotiations envisaged would last "up to six months", according to
the diplomats cited by Reuters, during which time the halt to enrichment
activities would have to continue.
The remarks by energy committee secretary Hosseini implied that Iran's
commitment was only to the six-week freeze on the level of its nuclear
activities and not to an actual suspension of enrichment as required for the
formal stage of negotiations.
But Mottaki, in remarks at a luncheon meeting with reporters at the Iranian
mission in New York, suggested that the Iranians might be prepared to go
Mottaki said that there were sufficient commonalities between the Solana
proposal on behalf of the "Iran Six" and Iran's own proposals for negotiations
to provide the basis for talks. That remark, paralleling the unattributed view
reported by ISNA on Monday, suggested that Iran was preparing to enter into
substantive negotiations. Furthermore, Mottaki failed to repeat the standard
Iranian statement that enrichment was Iran's legitimate right, even though he
was repeatedly questioned on the point.
Further indicating an Iranian desire to take advantage of any diplomatic
opening in a period of rising threat from Washington and Tel Aviv, Ali Akbar
Velyati, a top foreign policy adviser to Khamenei, said, "Americans wanted Iran
not to accept Solana. Therefore our interests imply that we should embrace
Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specializing
in US national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book,
Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam, was
published in 2006.