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Iran Deal Possible, Just Not Now (Page 2 of 2)

Yet missing from the Obama administration’s opening bid is an explicit demand that Iran suspend all enrichment, including that which produces fuel-grade, low-enriched uranium at 3 to 5 percent purity, for use in its Bushehr power plant. Although nominally part of the American set of demands in regard to Iran – and still contained within various U.N. Security Council resolutions on Iran since 2006 – there are signs that the Obama administration is backing away from the demand that Iran halt all uranium enrichment. According to David Ignatius, a well-connected columnist for the Washington Post who specializes in military and intelligence issues, Obama sent a message to Iran through Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who visited Tehran in early April, that the United States “would accept an Iranian civilian nuclear program if Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei can back up his recent public claim that his nation ‘will never pursue nuclear weapons.’”

And that, nearly all observers of Iran agree, is the key to a successful U.S.-Iran accord, in which Iran agrees to stringent international supervision of its program, including the International Atomic Energy Agency’s so-called Additional Protocol, in exchange for international blessing for its enrichment program. Getting from here to there, diplomatically, calls for extremely difficult deal-making, with concessions on both sides, and that’s why it won’t happen before 2013.

But at the very least, the current round of negotiations will forestall military action by Israel and may blunt calls for even tougher sanctions that the ones already in place.

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Despite the fever pitch to some of the rhetoric over Iran, and despite what Obama called “loose talk of war,” Iran remains far from a military nuclear capability even if its leaders made the political decision to acquire one. Its 20 percent enriched uranium, still under close IAEA supervision, would have to be recycled through Iran’s centrifuges until it reached the 90-plus percent purity needed to manufacture a bomb. That might take a year, or longer, and even then Iran wouldn’t necessarily have either the technology needed to weaponize it or the means to deliver a bomb. On top of that, experts say, Iran’s stockpile of 20 percent uranium is only enough to make a single bomb. So, it would seem, there’s plenty of time for negotiations to move forward.

Hopes in some quarters that the tough sanctions imposed on Iran since 2006, especially unilateral U.S. and European sanctions over the past two years, will force Iran to capitulate at the table are unlikely to be realized. Short of a naval blockade of Iranian ports, which would be an act of war, there’s little that the United States and its allies can do to bring Iran to its knees. Some major consumers of Iranian oil, including China, India and Japan, are unwilling to accede to American demands to isolate Iran economically, and Russia has said explicitly that further pressure on Iran will backfire.

“We really do not have a common view of what’s the real offer to be made to Iran to bring it to serious negotiations, said Sergei Ryabkov, Russia’s deputy foreign minister, in Washington this week. “We have never seen any movement on the Iranian part because of pressure. We only saw more stubbornness.”

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