It is Day 2 of the nuclear talks in Baghdad between Iran and the 5+1 Powers (US, UK, France, Germany, Russia, and China), and we are looking for signs for a breakout from the disappointment and pessimism --- at least as put out by the Iranians --- that marked the course of yesterday's discussions.
When we ended Live Coverage on Wednesday, the dominant message was that carried by Scott Peterson in the Christian Science Monitor, based largely on access to the Islamic Republic's delegation:
"This is what we were afraid of," says the Iranian diplomat. "No one is going to accept these things this way. [Giving up] the 20 percent and shutting down Fordow [enrichment plant], in return for nothing? Nothing?
However, those comments were made before the European Union's Catherine Ashton, speaking for the 5+1, met Iran's lead negotiator Saeed Jalili for almost two hours last night. And it is notable that the spin handed out by the US side to The New York Times is far from gloomy (even if it does not merit the rosy headline, "Iran Talks Are Extended as Signs of Common Ground Are Seen"):
A senior American official said that despite disagreements some common ground had been reached, suggesting that diplomats had extended the constructive atmosphere that has prevailed since the talks on Iran’s disputed nuclear program were resumed last month.
“We’re getting to things that matter,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the delicacy of the talks. “Even if we disagree on the shape, we think there is the beginning of a negotiation.”
Perhaps more importantly, Iran's State news agency IRNA does not feature the downbeat assessment given to Peterson by the Iranian delegation. Instead, it just offers a matter-of-fact narrative of the meetings through Wednesday, with the headline emphasising the agreement on a Day 2.
So perhaps the one definite that can be said at this point is that "success" will consist, as the "senior American official" indicated, in agreeing a third round of formal talks for next month.
However, that only returns us --- and, more significantly, Tehran --- to a bigger uncertainty. The US and its allies can afford that "success" and take their time; Iran may not be able to. As we noted at the start of Wednesday:
Here's the problem. The Islamic Republic may not have the time to "play long". The economy is tottering. The US, Europe, and now some countries and institutions elsewhere have put the squeeze on Iran's Central Bank and financial transactions. And now 1 July looms --- the day that the European Union imposes a ban on imports of oil from Iran.
Barring an unforeseen level of agreement today, how does Tehran cope with that Damocles' Sword?