As we have noted in our overview of our global challengers and the recent high level meetings to address them, the meeting of the P5+1 group with Iran in Moscow appears to have been, according to most reports, nearly fruitless. EU Foreign Policy Chief, Catherine Ashton, remarked in a press conference that the differences between Iran and the group of six world powers involved were so significant that negotiators did not commit to another high level meeting.
They did agree, however, to continue talks at a technical level about Iran’s nuclear program. The two sides will hold a technical meeting on July 3rd in Istanbul. The goal of this meeting is to better understand and study each other’s positions. This meeting may then be followed by contact between political deputies and direct contact between the chief negotiators Catherine Ashton for the P5+1, and Saeed Jalili for Iran, about a possible next meeting. Better this than nothing. But still this holds little hope.
The normal default now is to apply the full scope of sanctions against Iran on July 1st that were previously agreed to and for the world powers to reassess the next steps. One conclusion must be that Russia, which should not have an interest in a nuclear Iran, either did not apply enough of its leverage on Iran or it did but with no effect.
The key problem of this meeting on Iran’s nuclear uranium enrichment was that the negotiators did not find the compromise that many had hoped for. The likely result of this stalemate will be a steady but insistent intensifying of the crisis. This condition spells for both sides a high degree of risk and uncertainty.
In terms of next steps, there are reports of more-focused cyber warfare escalation as well as further sanctions and unfortunately cries of possible military action by those who have not looked deeply at the consequences and the difficulties of such actions.
The general assessment is that we still have some time before the Iranians actually create a nuclear bomb. What we do not have yet perhaps is a workable and creditable strategy to put the “genie” back in the bottle. What is needed is a comprehensive agreement that all sides can live with and that would bring a measure of stability to the region.
The stark options are basically two, with some added sub-elements to each: first, a steady enforcement and added sanctions that really bite or second, military action against Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.
The latter, as noted, is both high risk, doubtful of outcome, and could easily be counterproductive. It does have its proponents especially among America’s hawkish neo-cons and Israel’s right wing politicians. However, it does not have the support of many of Israel’s military and intelligence experts and for that matter most of its citizens. American experts also believe that a military strike would only add to the problem and would carry high risks, not least both physical and political collateral damage; with the possibility of adding greater instability to the region and furthering anti-American sentiment especially among the Shia populations.
The first option has many advantages as well as some problems. The advantages include not having the costs and risks of military action. Added sanctions, if applied with full effectiveness, will likely, in time, result in some kind of negotiations between the two sides with the potential of reaching the kind of agreement that has been put on the table many times already. This includes the P5+1 position that has gained the shorthand name “stop, shut, ship”. This proposal requires Iran to curtail enrichment of uranium to 20 percent purity, export its stockpile of the material and shut the underground major enrichment centrifuge installation.
In return, if Iran agrees on these issues, the key powers offered to supply parts for old American civilian aircrafts and fuel for an Iranian nuclear reactor with the additional promise of more sanctions relief. There are variations being proposed of this approach all of which include the clear agreement that any facilities or programs aimed at weapons be dismantled and subject to inspections. Some proposals would permit enrichment under international inspections and limit it to 20% but with controls over the material including shipping it abroad for fabrication for peaceful use.
Iran however did not agree to the powers’ proposals. It demanded as its key goal, acknowledgment that it has the absolute right under international treaties to enrich uranium. It had earlier rejected, after some indications of making a deal, the shipment of 20% enriched uranium abroad for reprocessing. For Iran this is a dead end position and leads only to conflict or economic depression.
One end of this standoff is what I call the “brinkmanship scenario,” in which an agreement is only reach after much pain by Iran, some further cosmetic concessions on both sides, the lifting of sanctions and even economic support, and perhaps a comprehensive agreement on security for all sides and for the region. Let’s hope this is sooner than later.
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