Iran’s reputation for evasiveness is neither a subject of dispute nor mere discussion. The Iranian delegation conducting negotiations on the nuclear program seems to be exhibiting slight moderation. However, prior experience as well as international consensus on the issue would dictate that this shift is nothing more than a veiled attempt to gain time while the centrifuges work at full capacity to enrich Iran’s uranium.
There also exists a clear conviction among most countries that through its “bold” proposal in the latest round of negotiations, Iran is trying to make its interlocutors think that even a limited acceptance of its program’s “peaceful” nature could elicit a more favorable reaction from the Iranian leadership. But determining Iran’s level of good faith and its commitment to its proposals is a long, difficult and risky process. Time and effort can be wasted on minor details while the real fears remain.
There is no doubt that those who follow Iranian affairs are aware that Western sanctions have begun to strongly raise the level of pressure on Tehran, whose ability to sell oil and receive payments has been greatly affected. This problem will only worsen once the European embargo on Iranian oil goes into full effect in July. This will deprive Tehran not only of revenue, but also of necessary equipment to develop and improve production.
There also is the possibility that Washington—which has until now refused to give Israel the green light for a military strike on Iran—might loosen its grip, even though such a strike cannot succeed without effective U.S. participation.
This, perhaps, is the “bottom line” in the new Iranian stance. In addition to their more apparent motives, the Iranian leadership seems to want to “repay” President Barack Obama, who is currently fully absorbed in a presidential election that is heating up. He is also under pressure from the U.S.'s Jewish lobby and the conservative right to sign off on a strike against Iran, which will lead to skyrocketing oil prices, which will in turn ruin his hopes for re-reelection. Tehran finds it necessary then to prove that the White House’s current approach to the nuclear program issue is “bearing fruit,” and that Obama is right in taking his time and concentrating on diplomacy [rather than military action], despite constant reminders that all other options remain on the table.
Furthermore, Iran, which aims to bolster Nouri al-Maliki’s regime in the international arena by proposing the next round of nuclear negotiations take place in Baghdad, also values Washington’s stance in rejecting any direct military intervention in Syria or the arming of the Syrian opposition.
A few weeks ago, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei considered Obama’s position “positive” and played down the effects of the sanctions, emphasizing that the U.S. would change their stance at the end when they realize how absurd it is.
Prominent U.S. newspapers also discussed a letter sent by Obama to Khamenei and delivered by Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan at the end of last month, in which Washington expressed its willingness to accept Tehran’s civilian nuclear program in exchange for many guarantees, such as a concrete commitment never to seek a nuclear weapon.
While neither side confirmed the existence of indirect negotiations, Tehran’s sudden “flexibility” reflects their progress and constitutes a vote in favor of Obama.