Iran Nuclear Negotiations Still Just Going in Circles

Article Summary
Habib Fayad reports that negotiations between Tehran and the West have achieving virtually nothing thus far. The two sides are still suspicious of each other, and other outstanding issues between them have added complications. Real progress may come after the US elections but for now, neither side "is willing to reach an understanding."

The multiple negotiation rounds between Tehran and the West have not culminated in a solution for the Iranian nuclear crisis, which seems bound to stall. On one hand, no solution appears to be looming on the horizon. On the other hand, if anything can be learned from the other outstanding issues between the two sides, there will be no greater confrontation over this.

The recent negotiations in Moscow revealed that Iran's enriched uranium has brought forth all sorts of disputes between Iranians and the West. The only result reached in the last round of negotiations was the transfer of the negotiations to technical experts in Istanbul early next month. This move is far from being the result of a political understanding. In fact, it is a mere cover for the standstill and the vicious cycle that the two sides are caught in. They both realize that all sorts of proposals have been discussed during dozens of negotiation rounds over the last decade, leaving no room for any new solutions.

More than one little irony can be found in the nuclear standoff between Iran and the West: They are both willing to negotiate, but neither one of them is really willing to reach an understanding. They are both cautious about progress, yet they are hesitant about regressing. Both sides make compromises only to become intransigent. They offer proposals based on the gradual "step-by-step" approach without making the first step forward.

Neither of the two sides wants the negotiations to reach a deadlock. The military option is always on the table, but no one wants to resort to it. They are running out of time, even though negotiations depend on patience. Also, neither side wants to admit that negotiations are failing. The result: a widening gap between the two, and on the horizon, a deadlock looms with fake optimism and a complete lack of confidence. The West is asking Iran to fulfill its obligations, and Iran is asking the West to deliver on its promises.

These facts do not bode well for the future of the Iranian nuclear crisis. The impossibility of finding a solution does not only result from the nuclear dimension in its technical and political aspects, but also from two other main factors. The first is a matter of principle, regarding which side would win or lose in the framework of a suggested settlement. In fact, the West will promote Iran's supposed acceptance of halting uranium enrichment to 20% as a step backward for Iran. For its part, Iran would consider the West's recognition of its right to low-percentage enrichment as a western defeat.

The second factor, however, is strategic. The nuclear issue is inextricably linked to the other outstanding issues between the two sides. Iran is insisting on finding a holistic and concurrent solution, whereas Washington and its allies want a solution for this issue before moving to the others. In both cases, there are enough complications preventing any solution from being reached, regardless of whether the negotiations cater to the convenience of Iran or that of its opponents.

Both sides are clinging to the policy of "escaping forward" and now see negotiations as an option to avoid the worst-case scenario. The West is aware that it will eventually escalate its options and go beyond sanctions, knowing that current efforts will not prevent Iran from carrying out nuclear activities. For its part, Iran is aware that its insistence on enrichment will not convince Westerners of its nuclear intentions, regardless of how adamant it is that they are peaceful. However, according to the West, the nuclear threat posed by Iran is the fact that Iran is capable of producing a bomb even if it did not want to do so. All it takes go from peaceful to weapons-grade nuclear capabilities is to enrich the uranium to 90%.

In the end, it should be noted that Iran's nuclear issue will stay in unsuccessful negotiations until after the US presidential elections. Only then will Washington be capable of dealing with this issue on a more productive basis. Meanwhile, the Russian-Iranian rapprochement might lead to the birth of a new regional order, and Iran's right to enrich uranium might then become a top priority.

Found in: iranian-russian negotiations, uranium enrichment, negotiations, iranian nuclear issue, iran

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