The Cable

Inside the Munich Security Conference “night owl” meeting

The annual Munich conference held last week was notable for the range of issues discussed, although actual progress on bridging gaps in understanding over contentious disputes was less than overwhelming. In one example, discussion of Iran’s nuclear program spilled over to an impromptu "night owl" session that lasted past midnight and included some telling exchanges. ...

The annual Munich conference held last week was notable for the range of issues discussed, although actual progress on bridging gaps in understanding over contentious disputes was less than overwhelming. In one example, discussion of Iran’s nuclear program spilled over to an impromptu "night owl" session that lasted past midnight and included some telling exchanges.

According to one attendee, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki got into it with Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt. "[Mottaki] filibustered Carl Bildt’s attempts to prod him on the nuclear issue and in response to questions, he called protestors ‘criminals’ that deserved their fate," the attendee reported.

It was hard to identify anyone defending Mottaki’s position, unlike in previous years’ conferences, the attendee said, adding that Council on Foreign Relations president Richard Haass received praise for his recent article arguing for regime change in Iran.

During the daytime session earlier on Iran, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle spoke out strongly against the mass arrests and death sentences handed down on Iranian protesters, the attendee said. National Security Advisor Jim Jones, the leader of the U.S. delegation, voiced one sentence of support for human rights after Westerwelle spoke.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov spoke about Iran during the daytime sessions, but didn’t reveal anything new about Russian thinking on the subject. Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi called for other parties to be more flexible when dealing with Iran’s nuclear program, the attendee said.

During the daytime sessions, Mottaki was positive about the potential for a deal with the P5+1 countries over transferring Iranian low-enriched uranium to a third country in exchange for nuclear fuel, as proposed by the IAEA.

"I personally believe we have created conducive ground for such an exchange in the not very distant future," Mottaki reportedly said, adding that it should be up to Tehran to set the amounts to be exchanged.

In another panel the next day, Lavrov sat with Jones, Westerwelle and the EU’s new high representative for foreign affairs, Baroness Catherine Ashton. Lavrov’s presentation was filled with controversial Russian stances on issues, such as the claim that Georgia attacked Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia in August 2008.When Georgian Foreign Minister Grigol Vashadze tried to challenge Lavrov, the Russian diplomat simply waved his hand dismissively when asked if he wanted to respond. Jones said nothing.

Also, "Baroness Ashton did little to dispel the controversy over her selection," our attendee said. "Looking like a frumpy librarian … leaving as soon as her speech was done, and taking no questions did little to demonstrate she has the substance or the stature to succeed."

 Twitter: @joshrogin

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