NUCLEAR NEGOTIATIONS: Representatives attend the second round of the Almaty dialogue to discuss the Iranian nuclear issue on April 5 (XINHUA/AFP)
The second round of the Almaty dialogue between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, which came to a close in early April, fell short of making any practical breakthroughs due to a wide gap between the two sides' stances.
Although details of the next round of negotiations have not yet been determined, it does not mean that negotiations have hit a dead end. All countries involved expressed willingness to continue talks, with analysts believing that Iran is more eager than the United States to see negotiations continue. However, it is certain that both Tehran and Washington have their own thoughts regarding the upcoming Iranian presidential election in June.
Pressure from EU and U.S. sanctions against Iran's oil and financial sectors is getting heavier. Earlier this year, the Iranian rial depreciated drastically against the U.S. dollar, to nearly 40,000 rials for one dollar. Moreover, the country's inflation rate stands at over 30 percent. Iranians have rushed to purchase real estate, cars and gold. Unscrupulous merchants have not only cornered the market but also pegged the prices of daily necessities to the dollar, even going so far as to trade directly in dollars. The market has fallen into disorder because of dollar shortages and people's expectations of continuing inflation. Since the country's oil income last year dropped 45 percent from the previous year due to sanctions, the government is incapable of consistently adding supply to the dollar market.
At the same time, power struggles inside Iran's leadership have further sharpened. Ruling conservatives conducted retaliations after the presidential election crisis in 2009, and reformers' influence has now seriously declined. This year, competition for the presidency will heat up in the conservative camp given the escalating conflict between Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ali Larijani, speaker of the Iranian parliament. Ahmadinejad is not qualified to run for another term. But his supporters are standing behind Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, whose daughter is married to Ahmadinejad's son.
Due to the discord between the president and the parliament speaker, many high-ranking officials in the Ahmadinejad administration, including Ahmadinejad himself, have been questioned by the parliament in the past years. In early February, the two leaders broke into a heated quarrel during an open parliamentary session when Ahmadinejad played a secret video showing Larijani's brother talking with a social security official, suggesting evidence of the latter's embezzlement of government assets.
The ugly political scandal dumbfounded hundreds of parliamentarians on the scene as well as the huge audience watching on television and was denounced by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and many other politicians. Iranians feel disappointed and have become worried about the country's political and economic future, doubting if it is worthwhile to pay such a high price for peacefully using nuclear energy. Their calls for change bring more pressure for Iranian leaders.
In this context, the first round of the Almaty dialogue was conducted in late February. The Iranian delegation held a one-on-one meeting with the Chinese delegation before the official dialogue, showing their high attention to and concern about the talks. China believes that dialogue and negotiations are the only way to resolve the nuclear issue in Iran. It has been playing a constructive role in promoting negotiations and preventing the escalation of the issue over the years. Catherine Ashton, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, proposed a suggestion of mutual compromise to Iran during the talks. Iran stopped short of saying a firm "no," but expressed that it would discuss the suggestion thereafter. With a positive atmosphere, the six countries and Iran confirmed that there would be an assembly of experts in March in Turkey and a follow-up dialogue in April in Almaty. Analysts believed that this round of talks had gone further than previous ones: Washington refrained from requiring Tehran to completely abandon nuclear power, while Tehran no longer asked for recognition of its nuclear rights and the lifting of sanctions all at once.