Briefly, in the gilded 19th-century Parisian salon, a resolution of the nuclear stand-off between Iran and the west felt entirely possible.
The European diplomats allowed not a trace of emotion to show on their faces. But one official recalls thinking that “what we had just heard was a most interesting offer. We realised that what we had just heard was a valid and coherent proposal that was in full conformity with relevant international treaty provisions.”
This diplomat adds today that “trust was not an issue, because over the preceding 18 months we had got to know our Iranian counterparts and had acquired confidence in the Iranians’ ability to honour their commitments”.
For the Iranians these demands seemed an intolerable humiliation for a sovereign state, and a classic manifestation of the western imperialism that had humiliated their ancient country for centuries.
The meeting had been under way for approximately 20 minutes, with no progress, when suddenly the face of the leader of the Iranian negotiating team, Javad Zarif, was wreathed in smiles.
“We have a proposal to show you,” he said. “It is an entirely unofficial idea. It has not been discussed or approved by our masters in Tehran. But perhaps it might be something we can talk about.”
After these preliminary words, the Iranians delivered a PowerPoint presentation which amazed the European negotiating team. It was the basis of a deal and one, moreover, that offered genuine benefits for both sides, though both sides would have to make compromises as well.
The Iranians explained that they were not prepared to abandon their plans to develop centrifuge enrichment technology on Iranian soil. But in return for carrying on with their enrichment programme they proposed unprecedented measures to guarantee that they would never divert peaceful nuclear technology for military use.