Nuclear Talks Resume
Discussions between the P5+1 and Iran over the nation’s nuclear program have just entered what will be their last round of talks if the two sides are able to reach an agreement before July 20. Reportedly, all parties are focused on meeting that self-imposed deadline, although there are doubts about whether persistent differences can be resolved regarding some of the most fundamental topics, such as the extent of Iranian enrichment capability.
The LA Times reports that a senior Obama administration official has warned that if those differences aren’t reconciled and the Iranian side is deemed responsible for the failure, then the United States might break off talks without seeking the potential six-month extension past the deadline.
In a special press briefing by the US State Department, a senior administration official said that Iran had thus far failed “to commit to concrete and verifiable steps to show to the world” that its nuclear program is peaceful, as it has repeatedly claimed. The official went on to say that the US is putting forward positions that are eminently reasonable, as well as giving the Iranian negotiators multiple alternatives, but that all of these are being rejected out of hand.
Previous rounds of talks have already shown Iran to be intractable on various key points, with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei having instructed negotiators that the number of operational centrifuges and the amount of domestically enriched uranium are not viable topics of discussion. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has repeatedly reiterated these points of non-negotiation.
Whereas these statements cast doubt on Iran’s seriousness in pursuing a deal with Western powers, CNN reports that the Iranian people are predictably at odds with their leaders, and are saying that compromise on these issues will be in the best interests of the country, citing such things as the potential impact on the economy and the population’s desire to remain in Iran.
However, Western calculations are unlikely to be so focused on what is best for the Iranian people, or even for the overall, long-term stability of the globe. An article in Bloomberg calls attention to the possibility that short-term, national-level concerns may have an impact on the strength of policies towards Iran and its nuclear capabilities. Namely, the article points out that regional instability threatens to increase the need for Iranian oil and give the Islamic Republic greater leverage on that point of negotiations.
The interim agreement between Iran and the P5+1, which went into effect at the beginning of the year, called for Iranian oil exports to remain around one million barrels per day – a restriction that has widely been reported as having been exceeded month after month. Although the Obama administration has already been quite lax in its enforcement of that provision, Bloomberg suggests that that enforcement may become almost completely undesirable to policymakers in the West if the crisis in Iraq and the work of rebels in Libya have significantly negative impacts on exports from those markets.
Still Picking Sides in Iraq
Of course, the situation in Iraq threatens to affect much more than just oil exports. It also has potential to remake the map of the region, influence what areas Iran can exert political pressure on, or perhaps even precipitate that fall of the Iranian regime as it loses the support of its nearest military allies. No doubt Iran recognizes the threat posed by the loss of the Maliki government, and reports indicate that it may be starting to look for ways of responding to the calls for Maliki’s removal without actually losing its hold on Iraq itself.
Business Insider reports that the Iranian mullahs may be looking to Ahmad Chalabi as a potential replacement for Maliki who can be expected to maintain Maliki’s deferent relationship with Iran. Indeed, Chalabi has a long history of supporting Iran, going all the way back to the birth of the Islamic Republic. Inside his own country, Chalabi has been a supporter of the most extreme Iraqi Shiite militias, which have effectively fought on Iran’s behalf against Sunni and other rebels in the current crisis.
While that is the situation and the future outlook inside of Iraq, there are outstanding questions about the security of its borders with nations other than Iran, as well as about the stance that Middle Eastern and Western nations will take if the conflict continues to drag on. Saudi Arabia has reportedly massed 30,000 troops on its border with Iraq, ostensibly to contain the conflict without participating in it. Meanwhile, the US has a number of military advisers in place to combat extremist Sunni forces, though it has become clear that the US wishes to see Maliki leave power.
Another report in Business Insider worries that US participation in the conflict “flies right into the Iran-Russia-Syria plan in Iraq.” The article quotes Michael Doran of the Brookings Institution to argue that the Obama administration should avoid siding with one dangerous element in order to combat another, but instead needs to confront Iranian interference while also working to curtail the extremist wing of the anti-Maliki uprising.
"If you want to build up a non-jihadi Sunni force that is capable of commanding loyalty from people on the ground,” Doran says, “then you have to fight Assad and push against Iran, and you push back against ISIS and Iran at the same time. If you're just fighting ISIS then you're building an Iranian security system in the region."
The recommendation that the West avoid buttressing one side of Middle Eastern conflicts is reminiscent of remarks that circulated last week amidst the annual gathering of the National Council of Resistance of Iran outside of Paris. Speaking at Friday’s event, the organization’s president, Maryam Rajavi, insisted that change to the Iranian regime must come from within Iran, but that the West has a role to play by avoiding the creation of obstacles to popular action and by removing obstacles that it has already put in place.
Barring the persistence or creation of such obstacles, Rajavi told her supporters and the press, the Iranian regime’s days are numbered, and it will be unable to survive the diverse crises it is now confronted with. Following up on the gathering, Fox News has now published additional excerpts of an exclusive interview with Mrs. Rajavi in which she reiterates her belief that the Iranian resistance will achieve its goal of a “free, prosperous, democratic, just and non-nuclear Iran.”
Still Seeking Alliances
The Iranian resistance has an important role to play in the world community’s contest with Iran, since it provides an essential counterbalance as Iran continues to reach out to regional powers and other partners that may be willing to provide it with economic, military, or logistical support in its efforts to pursue its nuclear program, extend its military boundaries to the Mediterranean and beyond, and export its fundamentalist ideology.
For example, the Brookings Institution reports that Iran is still pushing for the rapid expansion of military and trade relations with erstwhile US ally Pakistan. Not only has Pakistan been at the crossroads between Iran and the US, it has also been traditionally stuck between Iranian and Saudi influence. But amidst Pakistani participation in Iranian military exercises, plus visits to each country by the other’s heads of state, Pakistan seems to be trending towards Iranian orbit. Apparently not content with the natural progress of that developing relationship, Iran insists that it wants to expand trade from 3.5 billion to 5 billion dollars, and that Pakistan must complete the oil pipeline that has been in development between the two countries.
Meanwhile, representing a much different type of alliance, Mozaffar Khazaee, an Iranian engineer who had worked for multiple American defense contractors, has been denied release from prison because he is deemed to be a flight risk while he awaits trial related to his attempts to transfer sensitive documents to the Iranian government. Some such information reportedly did make it into the regime’s hands before Khazaee was arrested in January. The case underscores the fact that Iran remains a source of espionage and a threat to US national security even as diplomatic relations between the two countries have apparently softened.