Uncertainty Persists in West Surrounding Iran Nuclear Negotiations

Media reports have indicated that for the past several months these discussions have largely been between Iran and the United States, but on Monday US Secretary of State John Kerry took care to point out that US negotiators are “on the same page” as French negotiators, who are regarded as placing the most serious demands upon the Iranian side.

Still, it is not known whether this agreement signifies a softening of the French position or a strengthening of the US position that has been regarded as weak by critics of the Obama administration, including members of the US Congress.

 

The President has been reticent to make known the details of negotiations, and in February it was revealed that the administration even took the step of withholding information from Israel in light of presumed leaks coming from Tel Aviv. This secrecy has helped to fuel anxieties among critics of the nuclear talks who fear that Iran will be given broad-based sanctions relief in return for few real concessions on its nuclear program.

These anxieties may be amplified by the status of a probe by the International Atomic Energy Agency into the past military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program. At the same time that the P5+1 refuses to report on specific progress in negotiations, the IAEA is remaining tight-lipped about the extent of its own progress on the separate but highly relevant investigation.

The Wall Street Journal cites IAEA officials as giving roughly the same justification for this as negotiators have given for the vagueness of their commentary. That is, the IAEA wants to secure a broad picture of Iran’s nuclear work before declaring progress on any individual issue. US President Barack Obama has attacked his critics by saying that they do not know what the final agreement will look like when it comes due at the end of June.

Of course critics see this as problematic on both counts. In the case of the IAEA probe, the desire for a complete picture clashes with the former expectation that the outcome of that probe would affect Western decision-making in the midst of negotiations. The UN atomic agency has only raised three questions, and has apparently made significant progress on only one. This leaves nine additional questions to be both introduced and resolved before the full inquiry can be said to be concluded. At the current rate of progress, this could take years.

 

And in the case of the P5+1 negotiations, the lack of real-time progress updates raises questions about what the Western powers stand to gain from the limited sanctions relief that has had definite positive impacts on the Iranian economy during the course of the talks. That relief is expected to total to 11 billion dollars by the conclusion of talks at the end of June, regardless of whether there is a final agreement.

This has made critics understandably nervous about the possibility that Iran will be in a position to use those unfrozen assets and associated economic benefits to steel itself against economic pressures that may be re-instituted at a later date if Iran is found to be violating or taking advantage of a weak deal in order to further advance its nuclear program.

Indeed, Iranian officials have frequently boasted that America’s eagerness to sign a deal indicates that previous sanctions were ineffective. This contradicts the conclusions of independent analysts who find that the Iranian economy was virtually crippled by those sanctions. But it is not so clear what effect the relief will have at this stage. What is clear is that Iran is striving to institute the “resistance economy” advocated by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, in order to make the nation less susceptible to sanctions.

Customs Today reported on Tuesday that the Iranian National Tax Administration had indicated it plans to use higher tax revenue toward this end. The administration claimed that tax revenue for the current Iranian year is on track to be 49 percent higher than for last year, and that the forthcoming year, which starts on March 21 is expected to bring even more revenue.

The budget for the coming year uses higher taxes to offset persistently low oil prices, but this offset may not have been equally viable in absence of the economic benefits of sanctions relief that have accrued since January 2014.