How Desperate is Tehran Over Oil Exports?
Has US Undermined Nuclear Talks?

Optimism from Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif after this afternoon’s discussions between Iran and the members of the 5+1 Powers (US, Britain, Germany, France, China, and Russia):

The Foreign Minister was also upbeat with CNN, while maintaining Iran’s basic line for an initial agreement:

Zarif had said, “I will see Lady Ashton [the lead negotiator for the 5+1 Powers] this evening and we will review and hopefully start draft [of an agreement] ourselves”.

However, Abas Aslani of Fars News says the schedule may be changed:

Meanwhile, Iran’s lead negotiator, Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi, says talks may continue until Saturday to deliver an initial agreement on objectives, “first step”, and “final step”.

The Foreign Minister said a one-hour bilateral meeting with the Americans today was “very useful and productive”.

Afternoon Update

Israeli journalist Barak Ravid put out a message from Geneva after the initial session between Tehran and the 5+1 Powers:

Abas Aslani of Fars News offered a hopeful signal:

The schedule for the afternoon and evening:

Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi, Tehran’s lead negotiator, said Iran will meet the three European members of the 5+1 — France, Britain and Germany — in one session and Russia, China and the US in separate sessions.

Araqchi said, “We hope we can all reach an agreement on a single text and that an agreement would be signed between two sides. We are currently working on this issue but it is too early to say if we will have a written agreement or it will be deferred to the next meeting or the next ones.”

Earlier, the spokesman for the 5+1 Powers, Michael Mann, noted:

How Desperate is Tehran Over Oil Exports?

Industry sources say Iran is offering free delivery of crude oil to India, trying to prevent a collapse in exports amid US-led sanctions.

Tehran’s sales to India have been hindered not only by American threats of economic punishment if Delhi does not cut imports, but also by restrictions on insurance and financial transactions.

Iran can only be paid in Indian rupees, which are not convertible. That has led it to consider barter arrangements, with some of its oil being offset by Delhi’s products going to Tehran.

The Islamic Republic is also offering Indian buyers a discount on price if refiners raise purchases, the sources said.

“The more you buy, the more incentives you get. If a refiner buys 30 million barrels of Iranian oil in a year then the discount translates to 25 cents per barrel,” one source said.

Iran already offers 90 days’ credit on crude sales to Indian refiners while most other producers stick to 30 days’ credit.

Morning Summary: Has US Undermined Nuclear Talks?

Weeks of optimism over nuclear talks between Iran and the 5+1 Powers, resuming on Thursday in Geneva, may have come to a screeching halt.

The brakes were applied by an American “senior administration official” in a briefing to journalists on Wednesday.

The official, speaking in Geneva, effectively said that the US would not take any step until Tehran committed to significant concessions:

What we’re looking for is a first phase, a first step, an initial understanding that stops Iran’s nuclear program from moving forward and rolls it back for first time in decades.

Those steps, the official indicated, would have to halt Iran’s enrichment of 20% uranium, permanently put its stock of 20% fuel beyond any potential military use, and provide for strict international monitoring.

The official did not give specifics but the impression is that Washington will insist on at least a six-month closure of the Fordoo nuclear plant — with a view to permanent shutdown — and shipment of 20% uranium outside Iran.

And what would the US offer in return?

“Very limited, temporary, reversible sanctions relief.”

That was it. No recognition of Iran’s right to enrich was explicitly stated. No meaningful easing of sanctions, demanded by Iran in any deal. No allowance for Tehran to keep 20% uranium, even in fuel plates beyond any potential military use.

Instead, the official warned: “If Iran doesn’t meet its first-stage commitments or if there is no permanent agreement after six months, the economic sanctions would be re-imposed.”

Perhaps the American was just talking tough for the public, to bolster an initial strong line in negotiations, and there will be a genuine two-way discussion on Thursday. We may — or, given the confidentiality around the formal talks, may not — see by this evening.

For now, however, the US has effectively said, “We await your concessions. Then we will talk.”