Negotiators form Iran and the major powers that is P5+1 — the United States, Britain, France, China, Russia and Germany resume their talks next week in Geneva. While they have made significant progress, they remain at odds over how large a nuclear program geared for energy production and medical uses Iran will be permitted to have. In 2013, the United States, France, Germany, Britain, Russia and China, struck a preliminary agreement with Iran for Tehran to suspend sensitive nuclear work in return for easing some economic sanctions imposed during more than 12 years of nuclear dispute. However, the two sides failed for a second time in November last year to meet a self-imposed deadline for ending the stand-off and securing a comprehensive agreement, and extended the preliminary accord by seven months. Fresh round of talks on Iran’s disputed nuclear programme set to resume in Geneva on January 18, as a third deadline for a deal approaches. The teams have now set a July 1 ultimatum, although they hope to reach a framework accord sometime in March, leaving the most complex technical details to be finalized afterwards. It should be known that the two sides have been negotiating for more than a decade to reach a deal that would ease international economic sanctions on Iran if it agrees to limit its nuclear activities.
In a sign that there are still tough talks ahead, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei voiced his distrust of Washington as he weighed the prospects of a complex nuclear deal if reached with the west. Moreover because of amid pressure from the US Congress to impose more sanctions, Washington has also insisted that in the initial stages of a deal it would only suspend, not entirely lift, the measures. On one hand the United States and Iran continue negotiating a possible breakthrough nuclear agreement, but on another hand both sides are carrying concealed weapons that could be used if the talks collapse. The threats that underlie the bargaining are rarely discussed publicly, but both countries recognize the dangers ahead if they don’t reach an agreement by the June 30 deadline.
The United States leverage is its demonstrated ability to use cyber weapons to attack Iranian nuclear facilities and impose more sanctions; Iran’s leverage is its ability to target the more than two thousand U.S. military personnel now in Iraq. The political pressures surrounding the bargaining are evident in Tehran and Washington. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani tried to create space for a deal by arguing that Iran’s economy shouldn’t be hobbled by ideological factors, but Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned that the United States couldn’t be trusted to lift sanctions. Meanwhile, conservatives in Congress are urging even more sanctions, while the Obama administration tries to pin down a deal.
President Obama pursued what amounted to a two-track policy. At the same time as he sought engagement with Iran, he authorized use of the computer weapon to sabotage Iran’s enrichment facility at Natanz. Iran’s leverage in this game of chicken is its ability to wage covert war through its proxies in the Middle East. The threat matrix includes Iranian aid to Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Assad regime in Syria and the Houthi rebels in Yemen. But Iran’s most potent weapon is its ability to attack U.S. forces returning to Iraq to fight the Islamic State. The United States is vulnerable, but so is Iran. That’s the symmetry of this negotiation. Both sides in the talks are still arguing about how much of an enriched uranium stockpile to leave Iran. It now has enough for several bombs, and Washington wants substantial cuts below that level. Two other unresolved issues are Iran’s Fordo underground enrichment site and the nearly built Arak nuclear reactor. The U.S and its five allies in the talks want to repurpose Fordo to a non-enrichment function because it is believed impervious to a military attack from the air. The six also seek to re-engineer Arak from a model that produces enough plutonium for several nuclear weapons a year to a less proliferation-prone model.
But a strong lobby in US and West believes that sanctions imposed by the United States and its allies has brought Iran to the negotiation table, and only more economic sanctions will induce it to surrender. The premise is false. While the sanctions did play a role, they were not the most important reason, or even one of the primary ones. Iran is negotiating because that is what it has wanted. So only solution to the issue is through diplomatic dialogue without any pre-notions and with open mind.
A diplomatic solution to the nuclear issue the sooner the better will remove the threat of any future military conflagration in the Middle East, already in tumult with the ongoing ugly violence in Syria, Yemen and Iraq. An ultimate failure of the nuclear negotiations, whether torpedoed by the Israel-U.S. Congress joint effort or other naysayers, would play in the hands of certain quarters in Iran to push for withdrawal from the Non-Proliferation Treaty an eventuality that I presume few people would like to face after the North Korean affair. With the stakes as high as they are, both with the nuclear dossier and the situation in the region, it is incumbent on the U.S. Congress to act in a way to give diplomacy a real chance and regional stability a real boost. The bottom line is clear: Both sides need each other. The United States without Iran would continue to see its problems in the region remain unresolved or even aggravated, and Iran without the United States would continue to suffer in other ways.