By Iran News Update Staff
EXTENSION OF NUCLEAR TALKS
The extension of nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 was announced. Diplomats from most of the parties involved have maintained that there is still a great deal of distance between the contrary positions, but that progress is being made, which suggests that mutual agreement may be attainable within the next six months or so.
THE VALUE OF EXTENSION
Of course, despite the prevalence of criticism in Congress and the media for President Obama’s approach to the Iran situation, there is plenty of support for the extension of talks among some analysts and commentators. In an article at the Huffington Post, Elie Jacobs of the Truman National Security Project makes the point that the options are limited for obtaining a final solution to the nuclear issue. Very likely, he argues, it is a choice between diplomacy and war.
Furthermore, Jacobs suggests that the triumph of diplomacy would be the fulfilment of an effective sanctions program, which has so far served the specified purpose of bringing Iran to the negotiating table. From this point of view, as difficult as the continued discussions may be and as obstinate as the Islamic Republic has been, an extension is worthwhile simply by virtue of the fact that it gives diplomacy a chance and delays any future need for the US to take military action.
Meanwhile, an article at The Diplomat responds to the fact that there is significant pressure for such military action in American policy circles. The author, Zachary Keck, makes the perhaps surprising claim that Iranian hardliners approve of the influence of these “Iran hawks,” because they may help Iran to win the ongoing “blame game” between the two sides. Keck says that Iran’s goal in the negotiations is to either win a favorable nuclear deal or to make the United States look bad in the process of trying to do so.
Keck’s assessment has the Iranian regime benefitting whether the talks succeed or fail at this point. But it also suggests that an excessively hawkish approach may cause the US to sacrifice its ability to secure significant restrictions on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. This is only possible through negotiations, Keck points out, if economic sanctions have credibility. That is, contrary to the desires of some Iran hawks, they must be suspended or removed when they fulfill their stated purpose, which is strictly the curtailment of Iran’s nuclear weapons development.
INCENTIVES VERSUS PUNISHMENTS
But the idea of suspending sanctions in response to verifiable concessions is also contrary to the way they might still be used according to an article by Reuters, with the headline, “Iran nuclear negotiations are going so badly that the West may ease sanctions early.” The plan would reportedly abandon the idea of waiting for confirmation of Iranian compliance, and would instead suspend sanctions incrementally in a way that allowed them to be quickly re-imposed if Iran does fail to comply.
The article describes this as a goodwill gesture towards Iran and quotes one diplomat as saying, “It’s all meant to be reciprocal.” However, many analysts have observed Iran to be the intransigent party in these negotiations – a situation that may be seen by many as not warranting goodwill. Certainly, this is the view of much of the US Congress, which is expected to react aggressively against any plan that tries to front-load sanctions relief excessively.
The practicality of this plan may also be in doubt. Reuters seems to indicate that the plan depends upon the perceived reluctance of global banking institutions to overstep their allowances under a sanctions relief scheme. But this reluctance may not be as severe as some believe, since a handful of Western banks have already defied sanctions, and businesses and governments are both considering normalization of these activities in order to gain a competitive edge in the Iranian market.
If sanctions are alleviated even more readily, as an incentive for Iranian cooperation, rather than a punishment for non-cooperation, it may give the impression of irreversible goodwill towards the Islamic Republic. In the wake of the BNP Paribas scandal that caused the French bank to be fined 9 billion dollars for its sanctions evasion, the chairman of the French Senate’s Finance Committee expressed concern that the US would inevitably remove sanctions, but was positioning itself to gain the most from that eventual move.
Similarly, pending European Parliament challenges, fourteen Iranian entities were recently de-listed by a European court as sanctions targets. According to the Wall Street Journal, this has just allowed Iran to reenter the global shipping market after four years of being kept out of it, unable to obtain shipping containers due to sanctions and economic isolation.
As evidenced by this development, suspension of sanctions may have the effect of incentivizing Western institutions to do business with Iran. This may in turn cause them to have the opposite of their intended effect, in that they will give Iran less incentive to comply with an agreement. That is, Iran may be able to benefit enough from temporary relief that it will not strictly need suspensions to be made permanent. Already, reports have indicated that the release of capital to the Iranian market has been larger than anticipated.
COMPARING MULTIPLE PERSPECTIVES
The consideration of a possibly more generous sanctions relief scheme, along with the reactions to it, goes to show that there is still a great deal of uncertainty surrounding any final deal that might be created. But it also makes clear that there are powerful forces that are committed to seeing that that deal is a possibility. Against this background, there has apparently been a new outpouring of analyses of what that deal must look like in order to defend Western interests.
The Bipartisan Policy Center released an infographic on Thursday titled “Evaluating a nuclear deal with Iran.” It brings together the demands and recommendations that have been specified on various key points by several different organizations: the US Congress, the P5+1 negotiating team, the Brookings Institution, the International Crisis Group, and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.
Furthermore, the infographic compares these expectations to the known situation prior to the signing of the Joint Plan of Action, and during the interim period that is now drawing to a close. Although the document is missing information about specific Iranian demands – such as a 19 times expansion of its enrichment capability – it still helps the reader to visualize the distance between the current state of Iran’s nuclear program and the minimum acceptable situation according to each of these groups. The gap is significant, as can be seen here: