This weekend’s nuclear negotiations between Iran and the six world powers seem to have yielded a broadly positive outcome, with Cathy Ashton to the fore.
This weekend’s nuclear negotiations in Istanbul between Iran and the six world powers (the US, UK, France, Germany, Russia and China) seem to have yielded a broadly positive outcome. With a further round of talks scheduled for late May in Baghdad, Iran now appears to be fully engaged with the diplomatic process.
Saturday’s developments have drawn attention to the role of Cathy Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy chief. Ashton, as James Blitz writes in the Financial Times, has “long endured a mixed press in Britain”.
Nonetheless, he says:
“It would be wrong not to note the genuine plaudits she received from a number of diplomats over the weekend for the way she managed Saturday’s talks.”
In resisting a last-minute Iranian bid for an agreement binding the six powers to roll back the present economic sanctions in return for a series of concessions from Tehran over the coming weeks, Blitz adds, Ashton is regarded as having played an astute diplomatic game:
“This was always going to be a tough diplomatic game in the final stages. The good news for Ashton is that she has the respect of some pretty experienced diplomats round the table who think that, on Iran, she’s not doing a bad job at all.”
One European diplomat, speaking to Left Foot Forward, expanded on Ashton’s contributions:
“Part of the reason for having reached this stage has been pressure – especially the sanctions imposed by the EU, under Cathy Ashton’s stewardship, on oil imports into the EU.
“Her work in getting third countries to sign on to sanctions is often unreported, but thanks to her interventions with third parties – South Africans, Japan, even a number of Latin American states – the sanctions are so much wider than at any time before.”
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Just as important, he added, has been Ashton’s near-unprecedented achievement in building a constructive relationship with the Iranian delegation. She now has a reputation as a “genuine, open-minded but tough-thinking negotiator whom the Iranians trust and are willing to deal with”.
Having developed something approaching a rapport with Saeed Jaleeli, Iran’s chief negotiator, she then “ran the show – choreographing the political directors, ensuring their intervention matched her script”.
It bears saying, of course, that the multilateral process ahead is a long one. The next round of talks, on May 23rd, will follow hot on the heels of the G8 summit at Camp David and the NATO summit in Chicago. For the six world powers, these will inevitably constitute a prelude to the continued negotiations, and serve to raise the stakes upon both parties’ arrival in Baghdad.