For some time, I have been pessimistic about the possibility of a breakthrough in the stalemate over Iran's nuclear programme, even with a resumption of high-level talks between Tehran and the 5+1 Powers (US, Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China). That pessimism is based on the analysis that the US and its European partners are not envisaging two-way negotiations in the first instance. Instead, they are seeking unilateral Iranian concessions --- notably the suspension of enrichment of 20% uranium, despatch of all stocks outside Iran, and closure of the Fordoo enrichment plant --- as a pre-condition for substantive talks.
On Monday, I wrote with Nicholas Wheeler and Josh Baker, "Breaking the Deadlock in the Nuclear Negotiations":
If the Obama Administration simply repackages the "stop, shut and ship" proposal, then the stalemate will continue into its second term in the absence of major Iranian concessions. But waiting on Iran to make the first move before offering anything more significant, and thereby dismissing in Iranian eyes what they view as prior conciliatory moves, risks poisoning still further the relationship between the West and Iran. This scenario makes the language of ‘reciprocity’ a slogan rather than a practical policy, a signal which Tehran will view as an empty gesture masking a continuing US plan to weaken the Islamic Republic.
Barbara Slavin of Al Monitor, one of the front-line journalists covering the issue, has been more optimistic. After the re-election of President Obama, she saw a "window" for talks before March 2013, when the Iranian Presidential campaign would occupy Tehran.
However, today Slavin sees the same signals that I do, and she is much more downbeat:
Weeks of deliberations among the United States and its fellow negotiators have produced an offer to Iran very similar to the package Iran rejected last summer, casting doubt on chances for breaking the long stalemate over Iran’s nuclear program.
The “refreshed” proposal includes spare parts for Iran’s aging Western jetliners — a perennial carrot and assistance with Iran’s civilian nuclear infrastructure but no specific promise of sanctions relief....
Perhaps as a result, Iranian officials appear to be in no hurry to agree to a date to meet again with the so-called P5 +1....
Following US presidential elections, US officials began mulling a more generous proposal but have settled for a conservative position. Iran will be expected to agree to concessions before knowing exactly what it would get in return.