Iran: Nuclear Extension Possible?

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is scheduled to meet with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on October 14, and then with US Secretary of State John Kerry on October 15. Araqchi has told reporters that Iran is hopeful that these talks will still allow all parties to meet the deadline, but that an extension is an acceptable backup plan. However, the announcement of this latest round of discussions coincided with the released of an infographic on the website of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, repeating eleven red lines that Iranian negotiators will not be allowed to cross, including any limits at all to the nation’s uranium enrichment infrastructure.

This certainly casts doubt upon Iranian optimism and suggests that the prospects for a deal hinge on whether the US decided to accept or reject these demands, which are widely regarded as unacceptable to Iran’s adversaries and critics. Some such critics have also suggested that Iran’s strategy in these negotiations is merely to draw them out as long as possible in order to benefit from limited sanctions relief without actually compromising the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program. Iranian statements in favor of a second extension give support to these criticisms.

Furthermore, many critics fear that US negotiators may be willing to further concede to Iranian demands, as they have already done by greatly decreasing expectations concerning cutbacks to Iran’s enrichment capacity. Wall Street Journal suggests that the US may be sufficiently desperate for a deal that it will make at least as many concessions as needed to justify an extension. The White House, however, has not yet issued public statements regarding the possibility of such an extension, and most analysts recognize that a deal will be very unlikely after November, especially if Republicans take control of the US Senate.

But the Wall Street Journal indicates that Obama administration officials are apparently worried about regional fallout in the event that diplomacy with Iran breaks down. In particular, they appear concerned that following such a failure, Iran will try to work against American efforts to fight ISIS, in a way that it is not currently doing. But while Iran has reportedly told its Quds Force fighters in Iraq to avoid attacking targets associated with the US-led coalition, it has not similarly restrained the Shiite militias that Iran is backing, supplying, and financing.

Nevertheless, the Wall Street Journal suggests the Obama administration is unwilling to allow this conflict-by-proxy to turn into open warfare. Thus, it is committed to maintaining what is left of the diplomatic process, because this unwillingness has significantly decreased the administration’s policy alternatives with respect to Iran.