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As Talks with Iran Begin, Bumps in the Road Ahead Are Likely

In Baghdad, representatives from the six global powers (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) are in the middle of discussions with Iran over its nuclear program. Initial reports have been positive: Iran indicated to the IAEA that it is willing to allow the agency to inspect some of its secret installations. And while Western diplomats do not expect the Baghdad meeting to provoke an immediate breakthrough, optimism abounds that the talks will lay the foundation for definitive progress in the coming months.

The news looks good right now, but there are many reasons to think it will only get trickier from here.

First, it takes enormous diplomatic skill and effort to hold together a coalition as diverse and unwieldy as the U.S., China, Russia, Germany, France, and the UK (not to mention the EU, which is imposing its own embargo on Iranian oil effective July 1). So far, the coalition has held firm. But agreeing to hold talks is a far cry from agreeing to concrete action. Iran understands that its best play is to fracture the coalition, and it will do everything possible to pry the partners away from each other.

Second, the global powers have to strike a delicate balance when it comes to calibrating the strength of the sanctions. The world economy remains on edge, and while sanctions obviously need to be tight enough to hurt Iran’s oil exports, they cannot be so tight as to tip the teetering world economy into recession. Thankfully, the G-8 vowed this week to steady world oil supplies, even as sanctions tighten on Iran, to ensure the price of oil does not skyrocket.

And finally, there’s Israel. No country has a greater stake in these discussions than Israel. While it has refrained from military action so far, the global powers need to balance their diplomatic commitments to Iran with the need to maintain Israeli confidence in the process.

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  • Anthony

    Are we and the other five powers proposing that the Iranians halt productions of uranium enriched to 20% purity among other things? And what has Iran counter proposed?

  • billy

    theres the road!

  • Cunctator

    “Optimism abounds that the talks will lay the foundation for definitive progress in the coming months.”

    What does that mean? Optimism about what? That Iran will sundeenly make the concessions it has refused to consider over many years? That it will stop increasing the size of its programme — that it is continuing to do during the talks? Frankly, I am at a loss, to understand what is wrong with commentators. Is it a willfull blindness that cannot admit that Iran is using the talks as a means to move their goals foward under diplomatic cover (as is happening) or just plain naivete (that sooner or later Iran will agree). Perhaps it is just optimism that the diplomats will get together again, because, after all, that is what diplomats think is important – to keep on talking.

    However, the author of the article seems to forget — as does the Obama administration apparently — that the convening of the talks is not the goal. Nothing has been achieved at the Baghdad talks — nothing whatsoever — to advance toward the real goal which is the prevention of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons capability.

    My prediction is the same as I made a few weeks ago. Obama is so desperate for a foreign policy success on the Iran file that he will agree to just about anything. Consequently, the emphasis is on the process, rather than the substance of the talks. He has to look serious — so the talks will go on for a while yet, while he and others in Washington know full well that Iran is getting ever closer to realising its objective. Then, shortly before the election, a deal will be announced, sanctions will be relaxed, the US and EU-3 will slap each others’ shoulders and congratulate themselves on being so tough and determined. Then, sometime after Obama is re-elected (and let us hope he is not), Iran will explode its device and the administration and its allies will express shock and anger.

    I know previous administrations have used foreign policy decisions to buttress their position at home. That is rather inevitable, I suppose. But, I do not think I have ever seen an administration such as this one so shamelessly sacrifice the country’s national security interests in the quest for re-election. It is a profoundly disturbing and profoundly worrying phenomenon.

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