To almost no one’s surprise, the latest round of negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program produced no progress, and concluded with an agreement to meet again and hold more talks. Once again, world leaders — and Iran — have opted to kick the problem down road, each hoping to obtain a different result.
If there is one thing that Europe, the United States and Iran agree on right now is that nobody wants a war to start, not yet.
Even though Iran rejected a new set of proposals presented at the Baghdad meeting by the so-called P5+1 — the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany — everyone smiled faintly and agreed to another set of meetings in Moscow this June.
Even if U.S. officials became convinced that there is no chance Iran will ever compromise on its nuclear program, the Obama administration does not want a war with Iran at this time, since it could affect the November elections. Europe, for its part, is terrified of a conflict that could send oil prices higher and raise even more obstacles during an economic crisis.
Iran wants to continue making progress towards its nuclear goals, and it wants the world to start gradually accepting that it will not dismantle its nuclear facilities. Even if Tehran agrees at the last minute to stop short of building a weapon, it hopes to hold on to as much of the program as possible so that it can either cheat after an agreement or freeze progress at a point where Iranian nuclear engineers have only a short sprint left to build the bomb.
Iran’s nuclear advisor Hamidreza Taraghi recently boasted to The New York Times of how the West has gradually come to accept Iran’s crossing of “red lines.” First, he explained, the West said Iran could not have a nuclear reactor. Then it said it would not tolerate heavy-water facilities. Then it drew the line at uranium enrichment. Iran has crossed all the lines, and all of these are now elements of Iran’s nuclear program, apparently accepted by the West.
But Washington and its allies — and much of the world — say Iran should not be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons. President Obama says that the United States will do whatever it takes to prevent it. And there is surprising international support for that position.
A new Pew poll of 21 countries showed widespread opposition to a nuclear-armed Iran weapon, not only in the West but also in Egypt, Jordan and Turkey. Majorities, in fact, expressed support for military intervention in a number of countries, including the United States, Britain, France, the Czech Republic, Poland and others.
The U.N.’s nuclear agency has expressed deep concerns about possible “military dimensions” of Iran’s nuclear program. U.N. inspectors just announced finding traces of 27-percent enriched uranium, the highest yet, and after Baghdad talks Iran repeated it sees no reason to halt uranium enrichment to levels much higher than civilian uses require.
The United States, Israel and many others believe Tehran’s ultimate aim is to produce nuclear weapons, while Iran maintains it is enriching uranium only to develop energy and medical isotopes.
Despite its claims to have only peaceful intentions, Iranian officials made statements ahead of the Baghdad talks that served as a reminder of why the world — and Israel in particular — are so nervous about the prospects of a nuclear-armed Iran.
Last week, the chief of staff of Iran’s armed forces, Major General Hassan Firouzabadi, declared that Iran’s “cause” is “the full annihilation of Israel.” And even as the talks were getting started in Baghdad, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamaei told his audience at a military academy that the West is being “weakened and destroyed.”
Iranians are clever negotiators and until now they have managed to delay and run the clock while continuing nuclear advances. But, to its credit, the West refused to give in to Tehran’s demands that it ease existing sanctions and postpone new ones in exchange for minimal concessions. The sanctions are hurting and there’s a chance they could still work.
In the end, however, sanctions are not an end in themselves. If they fail to produce specific goals, they will have failed.
To see if substantial results are achieved in negotiations, watch for two words: Parchin and Fordo. Parchin is the place where U.N. inspectors believe detonation tests are conducted, and Fordo is the site of a heavily fortified complex where enrichment most worries Israel and the West, because it would be hard to destroy with a military attack.
If no progress is made in gaining access and dismantling those locations, everything else amounts to delay, not progress.