Cloud over talks

Iran’s test-firing of long-range missiles just days ahead of crucial talks on its nuclear programme has cast a cloud over the outcome of the talks. On Monday, Iran tested the liquid fuelled Shahab-3 missiles and the solid fuelled Sejil-2 missiles. These are said to have a range of 800 to 1,250 miles. Iran had tested three short-range missiles the previous day and only a week ago, it had acknowledged in a letter to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) the existence of a second uranium enrichment site. The test firing of the long-range missiles has evoked an angry response from several countries. This is not surprising since these missiles can reach Israel, several Arab countries, southern Europe as well as US bases in the Gulf.

Analysts have said that the test-firing has been timed with an eye on the talks that the P5+1 ie the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany will have with Iran on Thursday at Geneva. Iran has said that the tests are part of an annual military drill and not timed to coincide with the growing dispute over its nuclear programme. While it is likely that the missile tests were planned in advance, still, by going ahead with it at this critical juncture Iran is signalling that it will talk to the P5+1 at Geneva from a position of strength.

The mood among the international community is sombre on the eve of the start of what is a new diplomatic phase in the quest for resolution of the crisis over Iran’s nuclear weapons programme. The US is said to be assembling a package of tougher sanctions on Iran, including a cutoff of investments as well as restrictions on more Iranian banks. While concern over Iran’s growing nuclear and missile capability is understandable, a restrained response is essential. The ‘provocative’ missile tests notwithstanding, Iran has signalled a softening in its stand by agreeing to open the second enrichment facility for inspection by UN experts. This is a positive development that the P5+1 must build on. They should remain focused on engaging Iran diplomatically to get it to stand by its commitments to the UN, rather than browbeating it with stiffer sanctions. The talks in Geneva are an opportunity to resolve the crisis in Iran and its interlocutors must take it seriously.

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