By Harry C. Blaney III
It was a disappointment, but long expected, that the deadline for completion of the nuclear negotiations with Iran would not be completed on time. There remain a number of outstanding issues, not least the number of centrifuges that will be permitted, the extent of the verification process to include all possible non declared nuclear sites, and the extent and timing of reductions in sanctions. But probable “back room” roadblocks are opposition by “hardliners” in both Iran and in the United States. Elements in both countries do not want to see any agreement, even one that is clearly a “win-win” for both sides. The pessimists are crowing that they were right and the optimists are deeply concerned but hopeful. The fact is simply that not coming to an agreement is a “loss-loss” for all sides. The continued confrontation and sanctions, along with an isolated Iran, only spells high risk for all sides.
Iran would not only find itself even more isolated with failure to strike a deal, but the existing sanctions and likely added ones, plus the decline in the price of oil and poor economy and high inflation, could bring instability and irrational action. That is in nobody’s best interest. For the P5 + 1, they would see an Iran that would have no constraints on a possible move towards weaponizing their nuclear program.
The reasonable result is an extension of seven months and the key question is whether time will help to find the right and acceptable compromise for both sides. Clearly, for the moment, both sides see some hope for a final agreement.
Secretary John Kerry set out the situation in his press conference in Vienna:
“Now we have worked long and hard not just over these past days but for months in order to achieve a comprehensive agreement that addresses international concerns about Iran’s nuclear program. This takes time. The stakes are high and the issues are complicated and technical, and each decision affects other decisions. There’s always an interrelationship, and each decision also deeply affects international security and national interests.
It also takes time to do this because we don’t want just any agreement. We want the right agreement. Time and again, from the day that he took office, President Obama has been crystal clear that we must ensure that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon, period. And this is not specific to one country; it’s the policy of many countries in the world to reduce the numbers of nuclear weapons that exist today and not to allow new ones. And we are engaged in that struggle in many places. And the fact is that even Russia and the United States, who have the largest number, are working hard to reduce that number and to reduce the potential of fissionable nuclear material being available to any additional entity in the world.
President Obama has been just as clear that the best way to do this is through diplomacy, through a comprehensive and durable agreement that all parties can agree to, that all parties are committed to upholding, and whose implementation is not based on trust but on intensive verification. And that is not just because diplomacy is the preferred course; it is also the most effective course.
Diplomacy is also difficult. These talks aren’t going to suddenly get easier just because we extend them. They’re tough and they’ve been tough and they’re going to stay tough. If it were easier, if views on both sides weren’t as deeply held as they are, then we’d have reached a final agreement months or even years ago. But in these last days in Vienna, we have made real and substantial progress, and we have seen new ideas surface. And that is why we are jointly – the P5+1, six nations and Iran – extending these talks for seven months with the very specific goal of finishing the political agreement within four months and with the understanding that we will go to work immediately, meet again very shortly. And if we can do it sooner, we want to do it sooner.
At the end of four months, we have not agreed on the major – if we have not agreed on the major elements by that point in time and there is no clear path, we can revisit how we then want to choose to proceed.
Now we believe a comprehensive deal that addresses the world’s concerns is possible. It is desirable. And at this point, we have developed a clearer understanding of what that kind of deal could look like, but there are still some significant points of disagreement, and they have to be worked through.
Now I want to underscore that even as the negotiations continue towards a comprehensive deal, the world is safer than it was just one year ago. It is safer than we were before we agreed on the Joint Plan of Action, which was the interim agreement.”
– Secretary of State John Kerry (full remarks from Vienna)
The key question in the end is whether the Iranian Ayatollah Khamenei sees a net gain and is sincerely not seeking nuclear weapons capability. But even he has his far right “hawks” that may want such weapons. The assumption is that Iranian President Rouhani would not have gotten the agreement to negotiate if Khamenei did not believe it was in Iran’s long term interests and whether Rouhani could get Khamenei’s eventual agreement. Rouhani will not be making the final decision.
Kerry was right to continue the process which was always going to be difficult, but necessary for regional peace and security in the Middle East and beyond. Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif was clearly trying to obtain a deal that was not possible for the United States to accept and that could be a major error as that tactic may only play into the hands of those in the U.S. far-right “war party” who seem to desire for America to go to war with Iran and oppose almost any deal that might be possible.
There will be a process of putting forth what the press characterized as “new ideas” and regular level negotiations will continue in December. In this case Kerry was right, since the constraints on Iran’s nuclear program that were agreed upon as part of the framework of the negotiations themselves would also continue. Mr. Zarif should take to heart his own remarks in Vienna: “If you are looking for a zero-sum game in nuclear negotiations, you are doomed to failure.”
But, in the end, the final outcome, however reached, needs to make sure that Iran does not build any nuclear weapons and has no “breakout” capacity that is not seen far in advance of any reality. The “win” side could be the start of a better reconciliation between the West and Iran – so great is the price of ultimate failure.
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