FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Hard Line Failure in Nuke Talks

by GARETH PORTER

Negotiations between Iran and the United States and other members of the P5+1 group in Baghdad ended in fundamental disagreement Thursday over the position of the P5+1 offering no relief from sanctions against Iran.

The two sides agreed to meet again in Moscow Jun. 18 and 19, but only after Iran had threatened not to schedule another meeting, because the P5+1 had originally failed to respond properly to its five-point plan.

The prospects for agreement are not likely to improve before that meeting, however, mainly because of an inflexible U.S. diplomatic posture that reflects President Barack Obama’s need to bow to the demands of Israel and the U.S. Congress on Iran policy.

The U.S. hard line in the Baghdad talks and the failure to set the stage for an early agreement with Iran means that Iran will not only increase but accelerate its accumulation of 20-percent enriched uranium, which has been the ostensible reason for wanting to get Iran to the negotiating table quickly.

Iran’s enrichment to 20 percent, which Tehran has justified over the past two years as needed by its Tehran Research Reactor to produce medical isotopes, can be turned into high enriched uranium more quickly than the 3.5 percent enriched uranium for Iran’s nuclear power programme.

But although Iran has let it be known that it is open to making a deal to end its 20 percent enrichment and even to let go of its stockpile if offered the right incentive, the Obama administration has opted not to go for such a deal by refusing to offer any corresponding reduction in sanctions.

The U.S. demand for the closure of the Fordow facility, which is now under surveillance by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), was a direct response to pressure from Israel. Prime Minister Benjamen Netanyahu declared that demand one of his “benchmarks” for the talks on Mar. 2.

In discussions with the U.S. in late March, Defence Minister Ehud Barak insisted on the closure of Fordow as one of the Israeli demands, as he revealed Apr. 4. That was a quid pro quo for Israeli acceptance of a focus in the first stage on halting Iran’s uranium enrichment to 20 percent rather than demanding an end to all uranium enrichment, as Reuters reported Apr. 4.

That agreement clearly implied that the Obama administration would do nothing to dismantle any sanctions against Iran unless Iran ended all uranium enrichment.

The administration’s refusal to entertain any removal of sanctions as part of its diplomatic strategy with Iran also recognised the fact that it would have to pay a steep political price merely to request any change in sanctions legislation and would be unlikely to prevail over the deeply entrenched interests of Israel in both houses.

After being lobbied by 12,000 activists attending the conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in March, the House of Representatives passed a resolution demanding a policy of preventing Iran from having a “nuclear weapons capability” by a vote of 401-11.

The U.S. understandings with Israel were sharply at odds with a deal with Iran based on a “step by step” approach which had been proposed by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Under that approach, each move by Iran to satisfy Western concerns about its nuclear programme should be rewarded by a relaxation of sanctions.

As Michael Adler revealed in The Daily Beast Mar. 7, however, the Obama administration was unwilling to reduce sanctions gradually as the Russians wanted. Adler’s account implied that it could only come at the end of the process in response to a complete suspension of all uranium enrichment by Iran as a “confidence building measure”.

For Iran, 20 percent enrichment has been largely an exercise in increasing its bargaining leverage with the United States by creating a level of enrichment that the U.S has said is threatening.

Iran has made a series of policy statements since it began that enrichment suggesting that the objective has been to trade those bargaining chips for negotiating concessions that would benefit Iran – mainly moves to reduce sanctions and the recognition of its right to enrich.

The demand that the 20 percent enrichment be ended and that Fordow facility be closed without any easing of economic sanctions would represent a double diplomatic defeat which Iran has strenuously rejected.

“Giving up 20 percent enrichment levels in return for plane spare parts is a joke,” Iranian analyst Hasan Abadini was quoted as saying.

There was some discussion before the Baghdad meeting, initiated by Europeans, of at least offering to suspend a European ban on insuring oil tankers, which threatens some of Iran’s oil trade with Asian countries, in conjunction with a deal, according to the New York Times May 18. But that was evidently rejected by Washington.

The U.S. rejection of the “step by step” approach in favour of a stance that leans heavily toward Israeli preferences leads to apparent contradictions in U.S. policy.

That stance is sharply at odds with the official U.S. stance suggesting ending Iran’s 20 percent enrichment is an urgent requirement. A senior U.S. official was quoted by Associated Press Thursday as saying, “We are urgent about this, because every day we don’t figure this out, they keep going forward with a nuclear program.”

The contradiction was further highlighted by reports that Iran is further increasing its capability for 20 percent enrichment at the Fordow facility. A Reuters story from Vienna Thursday said that Iran may have already put 350 more centrifuges into Fordow since February, on top of the almost 700 already operating there.

Associated Press reported a senior U.S. official in Baghdad explaining that sanctions were likely to increase the pressure on Iran to agree to U.S. terms in the next round of talks. “Maximum pressure is not yet being felt by Iran,” the official was quoted as saying.

But few diplomatic observers believe that Iran’s Supreme Leader, who makes the crucial decisions, could afford to bow to the U.S. demands as presented in Baghdad.

Meanwhile, the U.S. strategy of drawing out the talks to wait for the impact of sanctions to work on the Iranians allows Iran to continue adding “facts on the ground”.

Ironically, U.S. strategists have argued publicly in the past that Iran was using negotiations to “play for time” while it increased its nuclear capabilities.

In another seeming contradiction between U.S. diplomatic posture and its declared interest in ensuring that Iran prove the non-military character of its nuclear programme, U.S. officials dismissed as irrelevant the news that Iran and IAEA Director General Yukia Amano are close to an agreement on the terms of Iranian cooperation in clarifying allegations of past nuclear weapons work.

A “senior U.S. official” said the United States welcomed the signs of progress, but then carefully differentiated the purpose of the P5+1 negotiations and those of the IAEA, according to Al-monitor May 22.

“The IAEA is about accounting for the past and for naming what is,” the official explained. “It is not about what is the nature of Iran’s nuclear program and what will Iran’s nuclear program look like going forward, and will it be peaceful.”

That statement abruptly reversed previous U.S. insistence that Iran’s cooperation with the IAEA represented a central element in a diplomatic settlement of the conflict over Iran’s nuclear programme.

The idea that U.S. negotiations with Iran would not be affected by whatever it did to prove allegations of past nuclear weapons work wrong implies that Washington is firmly committed to its present diplomatic course mainly in order to placate Israel and the U.S. Congress.

GARETH PORTER is an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, “Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam“, was published in 2006. 

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He is the author of the newly published Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
July 29, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Michael Hudson
Obama Said Hillary will Continue His Legacy and Indeed She Will!
Jeffrey St. Clair
She Stoops to Conquer: Notes From the Democratic Convention
Rob Urie
Long Live the Queen of Chaos
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
Evolution of Capitalism, Escalation of Imperialism
Margot Kidder
My Fellow Americans: We Are Fools
Phillip Kim et al.
Open Letter to Bernie Sanders from Former Campaign Staffers
Ralph Nader
Hillary’s Convention Con
Lewis Evans
Executing Children Won’t Save the Tiger or the Rhino
Vijay Prashad
The Iraq War: a Story of Deceit
Chris Odinet
It Wasn’t Just the Baton Rouge Police Who Killed Alton Sterling
Brian Cloughley
Could Trump be Good for Peace?
Patrick Timmons
Racism, Freedom of Expression and the Prohibition of Guns at Universities in Texas
Gary Leupp
The Coming Crisis in U.S.-Turkey Relations
Pepe Escobar
Is War Inevitable in the South China Sea?
Norman Pollack
Clinton Incorruptible: An Ideological Contrivance
Robert Fantina
The Time for Third Parties is Now!
Andre Vltchek
Like Trump, Hitler Also Liked His “Small People”
Serge Halimi
Provoking Russia
David Rovics
The Republicans and Democrats Have Now Switched Places
Andrew Stewart
Countering The Nader Baiter Mythology
Rev. William Alberts
“Law and Order:” Code words for White Lives Matter Most
Ron Jacobs
Something Besides Politics for Summer’s End
David Swanson
It’s Not the Economy, Stupid
Erwan Castel
A Faith that Lifts Barricades: The Ukraine Government Bows and the Ultra-Nationalists are Furious
Steve Horn
Did Industry Ties Lead Democratic Party Platform Committee to Nix Fracking Ban?
Robert Fisk
How to Understand the Beheading of a French Priest
Colin Todhunter
Sugar-Coated Lies: How The Food Lobby Destroys Health In The EU
Franklin Lamb
“Don’t Cry For Us Syria … The Truth is We Shall Never Leave You!”
Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin
The Artistic Representation of War and Peace, Politics and the Global Crisis
Frederick B. Hudson
Well Fed, Bill?
Harvey Wasserman
NY Times Pushes Nukes While Claiming Renewables Fail to Fight Climate Change
Elliot Sperber
Pseudo-Democracy, Reparations, and Actual Democracy
Uri Avnery
The Orange Man: Trump and the Middle East
Marjorie Cohn
The Content of Trump’s Character
Missy Comley Beattie
Pick Your Poison
Kathleen Wallace
Feel the About Turn
Joseph Grosso
Serving The Grid: Urban Planning in New York
John Repp
Real Cooperation with Nations Is the Best Survival Tactic
Binoy Kampmark
The Scourge of Youth Detention: The Northern Territory, Torture, and Australia’s Detention Disease
Kim Nicolini
Rain the Color Blue with a Little Red In It
Cesar Chelala
Gang Violence Rages Across Central America
Tom H. Hastings
Africa/America
Robert Koehler
Slavery, War and Presidential Politics
Charles R. Larson
Review: B. George’s “The Death of Rex Ndongo”
July 28, 2016
Paul Street
Politician Speak at the DNC
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail