In completely unsurprising news, it is revealed that the negotiations between Iran and the West on Iran’s refusal to halt its nuclear weapons program have ground to a halt.
MOSCOW — High-level nuclear talks between Iran and six world powers fizzled Tuesday, creating increased opportunity for Israel to use the setback to argue military force is the only way to stop Tehran from developing atomic arms.
As she announced the indefinite pause in negotiations, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said they could be resumed — but only if a low-level July 3 meeting of technical experts in Istanbul finds enough common ground to warrant such a step.
Officials from Western nations involved in the talks acknowledged huge differences between the two sides but insisted the diplomatic track had not been derailed. But the lack of progress in Moscow is sure to be seen by critics as a sign that talks are ineffective at persuading Tehran to curb uranium enrichment, a process that can make both reactor fuel and the core of nuclear warheads.
Strong comments by Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius of France, one of the countries at the table in Moscow, reflected Western frustration. He spoke of “the large gap between the two sides,” and warned that “sanctions will continue to be toughened” to pressure Tehran into a nuclear compromise.
Ahead of the inconclusive last round of talks in Baghdad on May 23, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Tehran of playing a “chess game” with the international community, declaring he sees “no evidence whatsoever that Iran is serious about ending its nuclear program.”
Netanyahu did not present any ultimatums then, but Israeli officials have repeatedly said time is running out to avoid military action as a last resort to prevent Tehran from developing nuclear arms. It’s a scenario with potential to draw the U.S. into a war between the Jewish state and Iran.
Even if Israel does not strike, the talks’ indefinite suspension could spell trouble for U.S. President Barack Obama by giving Mitt Romney, his presumptive Republican rival in this year’s race for the presidency, a wider platform for criticizing him for his alleged weak response to international concerns about Tehran’s nuclear aims.
But Ashton, who convened the talks between Iran and the six powers — the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany — defended the decision to kick contacts down to a lower level.
She said it was “the right way to go forward” and suggested Iran’s actions would determine if negotiations between top officials resume.
The six want Tehran to stop enriching uranium to a level that is just steps away from its use as the core of nuclear warheads.
But Iran says it is enriching only to make reactor fuel or medical isotopes and insists it has a right to enrich under international law. With neither side ready to accept what the other brought to the table in the form of inducements to compromise, diplomats familiar with the negotiations said they were in trouble from day one.
Reflecting the differences, top Iranian negotiator Saeed Jalili said Tuesday it was up to the six to “get out of the past deadlocked path and take steps in the path of cooperation.”
Along with recognition of the right to enrich, Iran seeks relief from growing U.N. and other sanctions, including spreading international embargoes on its oil sales. That is something the six are ready to grant only if Tehran agrees to enrichment suspension and related measures and Jalili, in comments to reporters, warned of an unspecified “appropriate response” if sanctions were not eased.
In other words, Iran wants to have it all ways: both to be allowed to enrich uranium as much as they want to, and to have the sanctions lifted – those very sanctions that are intended to prevent it from enriching uranium in the first place. As for Iran’s “appropriate response”, this ominous phrase is a lightly disguised threat of violence and should be treated as such.
Returning to the article:
In addition to longer-term U.N. and other sanctions, Tehran is now being squeezed by the widening international embargo on its oil sales, which make up more than 90 percent of its foreign currency earnings.
Sanctions levied by the U.S. have already cut exports of Iranian crude from about 2.5 million barrels a day last year to between 1.2 million and 1.8 million barrels now, according to estimates by U.S. officials. An EU embargo on Iranian crude that starts July 1 will tighten the squeeze.
The six nations formally are only prepared to ease restrictions on airplane parts for Iran’s outmoded, mostly U.S.-produced civilian fleet and are offering technical help with aspects of Iran’s nuclear program that cannot be used for military purposes.
The six also want Fordo, the underground Iranian facility where most of the higher-level enrichment is taking place, shut down and for Iran to ship out its higher-grade stockpile. Fordo is of special concern because it might be impervious to air attacks — a possible last-resort response to any Iranian bomb in the making.
Fordo is not the only Iranian nuclear facility that is causing great concern in the West. The site at Parchin appears, from satellite photography, to have been undergoing a “sanitization” in order to disguise incriminating work carried out there before a visit by IAEA nuclear inspectors.
A US security institute published new satellite imagery on Wednesday which it said appeared to show further activity to clean up an Iranian military site which the UN nuclear watchdog wants to inspect, including removing earth.
Parchin, which Iran says is a conventional military complex, is at the center of Western allegations that Iran has conducted experiments – possibly a decade ago – that could help develop atom bombs. Iran denies any such ambition.
The Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) published the latest satellite picture a day after Iran and six world powers failed to make any progress on their decade-old nuclear dispute during two days of talks in Moscow.
Iran has so far refused to grant the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) access to the Parchin facility as part of the UN agency’s long-stalled investigation into suspected nuclear bomb research in the Islamic Republic.
Western diplomats say they believe Iran may be trying to clean the sprawling site of any incriminating evidence before possibly allowing IAEA inspectors to go there.
On Wednesday, the think-tank posted a picture from June 7 on its website which “shows what appears to be further sanitization activity” at the site in the Parchin complex where Iran is suspected to have conducted high explosive tests.
“The image shows heavy machinery tracks and earth displacement throughout the site,” ISIS, which monitors Iran’s nuclear program closely, said.
Did anyone honestly ever think that the Iranians would negotiate in good faith? Did any of the negotiators really imagine that Iran would consider disarming? I’m sure any one of us here in Israel could have saved these international negotiators a whole lot of air-fares and hotel fees if they would only have listened to us.
The question only remains, what now?
UPDATE: In answer to my rhetorical question above, Prof. Barry Rubin has some interesting thoughts, though he seem rather optimistic to me. Here are a few snippets but read the whole thing.
The Israeli position is clearly explained by President Shimon Peres in an interview:
The problem is the following: If we would say only economic sanctions [will be imposed], then the Iranians will say, “Okay, we will wait until it will be over.” Now what the Americans and Europeans and Israelis are saying is, “If you won’t answer the economic challenge, all other options are on the table.” It will not end there. Without that, there is no chance that the sanctions will [work]….The Iranians must be convinced [the threat of a military attack] is not just a tactic.
Dagan was also right in saying that Iran’s influence is waning in the Middle East. The last year has been a disaster for Tehran’s regional ambitions. With Sunni Islamists in the ascendancy throughout most of the Arab world, these countries and movements have no need for Iran.
The Palestinian Hamas group will take Tehran’s money, but it is now in the orbit of the Muslim Brotherhood that is going to be controlling Egypt. Iran’s influence is thus limited to competing in Lebanon (where its Hizballah ally is in a strong position), Iraq (where its influence is real but limited), Syria (where its ally is under sharp attack by rebels), and Bahrain (where it backed the losing side).
Thus, while Tehran getting nuclear weapons in, say, 2010 would have had a dramatic effect in boosting its regional power, that is no longer true today and will be less so in the future.
Iran’s moment in the region as a whole is over, though it can still do a lot of damage in the Persian Gulf area. But we are now about to enter a new era in which Egypt, under Sunni Islamist leadership, has the option of playing the leading role. The last round of such Egyptian activity began almost precisely sixty years ago today with the Arab nationalist coup of July 23, 1952. Today it is revolutionary Islamism that is sparking likely efforts from Cairo to promote revolution abroad and to make some futile new effort to wipe out Israel. The new regime’s first priority, though, is going to be consolidating power at home and fundamentally transforming Egyptian society.