Iran’s cultural isolation apparently showed through at the latest round of talks over its nuclear program. Its refusal to cooperate may suggest changes in direction from both sides of the negotiating table. For its part, the United States is reportedly considering the possibility of bilateral talks that would temporarily circumvent the rest of the P5+1, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Direct negotiations between the US and Iran were integral to arriving at an interim agreement last year. In the current situation, such direct talks may be necessary to salvaging a deal in light of the fact that Iran has publicly committed to not giving up any enrichment capabilities or delivery systems. The US has apparently been aware of the stubborn tone coming out of the Iranian camp, and it has apparently been less willing to make concessions to Iran or accept an unfavorable deal.
Bilateral talks may give the US an opportunity to apply pressure in absence of the support that Iran receives from Russia and China. On the other hand, direct talks also circumvent hardline Western voices, chiefly coming out of France.
Previous bilateral talks were conducted in secret to avoid objections from Israel, Saudi Arabia, and other enemies of Iran. The lack of secrecy about new plans may be a sign that the US is confident in the newfound rigidness of its negotiating position. But for now, this is just another way in which the future of negotiations is up in the air.
In an editorial published Friday in the National Interest, Mark Dubowitz argues that Iran’s recent refusal to cooperate is largely attributable to the loss of leverage provided by international sanctions. He essentially says that the US, along with European negotiators, gave up too much, too fast, allowing the Iranian economy to rebound to a point where it can voluntarily give up additional sanctions relief if it means retaining its nuclear program and extreme national pride.
Dubowitz’s argument reflects concerns formerly expressed by the US congress, some members of which felt that President Obama was providing little evidence of Iranian cooperation, even though there was considerable evidence of the positive effects of the interim deal on the Iranian economy. And Dubowitz claims that those positive effects may have inadvertently been well in excess of the estimated seven billion dollars in direct sanctions relief.
There is also a question of where, exactly, that influx of capital is going. The Wall Street Journal points out that the Iranian government still has as much as 50 billion dollars in contracts with Khatam ol-Anbia, an engineering contractor that is entirely owned by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. This means that some up-ticks in the economy may channel money directly into the hands of the most transparently warlike and anti-Western elements in Iran.
What’s more, the same can be said of Western businesses that will consider Iran an open marketplace as long as sanctions relief continues. The Wall Street Journal report indicates that at least some of those businesses are perfectly willing to conduct transactions with the IRGC.
Over seven billion dollars in sanctions relief is evidently not enough for President Hassan Rouhani. The Washington Timesreports that Rouhani has said that his nation is owed reparations from the US government, to make up for the effects of its “hostile policies.” He argued that such a move would make Iran more willing to negotiate. It is the latest in a series of signals that Iran feels emboldened to make demands of the international community while offering little to no concessions in return.
In an editorial on the subject, Richard Berkow says: “The White House has yet to respond to Rouhani’s outlandish demands, but charging Iran for seizing and burning the U.S. Embassy there in 1979 and holding 60 Americans hostage for 444 days would seem a logical place to start.”
Outreach and Intrusion
The strengthening of ties among key Asian nations continues to progress towards the creation of a solid and dangerous alliance. Iran has invited Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu to visit Tehran and discuss military ties between the two nations. While no date has been set for such a meeting, the invitation comes immediately after China called for greater military and security cooperation among various eastern and central Asian countries.
Fox News reports that the Iranian army on Friday began a two-day military exercise that would include the testing of short-range missiles. The demonstration comes close on the heels of other military maneuvers that have widely been interpreted as intimidation aimed at its regional rival, Saudi Arabia. Additionally, the IRGC has made several recent statements to the effect that Iran is prepared for war with the United States, and is capable of sinking its aircraft carriers.
In Al Arabiya News, Majid Rafizadeh provides detailed analysis of Iranian efforts to recruit Afghan refugees to fight in Syria. He looks at both the consequences and the motives of the policy, noting that Afghan recruitment helps Iran to reduce the number of IRGC and Hezbollah casualties from the conflict, while also exploiting the fact that most of the Afghans are Shiite, in order to foster more of the sectarian conflict that tends to benefit Iran, the main Shiite force in the region.