Following a one-day meting between Iran and a group of world powers in Istanbul on Saturday, some diplomats are cautiously optimistic that they’re making progress. Iran’s nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jaleeli, met with representatives of the six governments—the U.S., UK, France, Russia, China, and Germany—for the first time in more than a year, and, according to the FT, he was unusually cooperative:
Dr Jaleeli gave no indication of the concessions that Iran might make when they meet in the Iraqi capital.However, several diplomats said Dr Jaleeli was in a far more constructive mood than previously. […]“The meeting ended up hitting the middle of my expectations,” said one participant. “There were no hard proposals from Iran but there was none of the propagandistic stuff that has marred previous encounters. They seem to want to engage.”
Incentives for both sides to reach a deal appear to be greater than in the recent past. For Iran, American and European sanctions are biting hard, and, like Banquo’s ghost, the threat of an Israeli military strike continues to hover over Tehran. For the Western powers, who also want to avoid the need for an Israeli attack, the looming U.S. presidential election is providing an additional impetus.Despite these incentives, one can never rule out the possibility that Iran is simply using the meetings as a pretext to stall for time:
Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, on Sunday attacked the talks, saying Iran had been “given a ‘freebie’.“It has got five weeks to continue enrichment without any limitation, any inhibition. I think Iran should take immediate steps to stop all enrichment, take out all enrichment material and dismantle the nuclear facility in Qom.”
Netanyahu’s attitude is understandable given Iran’s track record of using diplomatic talks as little more than a delaying tactic while continuing to advance its nuclear program. Still, the negotiation option has to be explored. Iran may very well be using negotiations as an attempt to split the forces aligned against it while playing for time. US patience with Iran cannot be infinite and at some point — not too far down the road — Iran will have to make a choice.A peaceful solution that stops Iran’s progress toward a bomb is in the interests of everyone concerned, and the military option is so unpalatable that a serious effort to negotiate is clearly required. But negotiations can fail, and if these do, the options for the Obama administration will be fewer and uglier in the next phase.