The long-moribund diplomatic talks on Iran’s nuclear program are slated to resume today in Istanbul between Iran and the P5-plus-1 (the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany). There is little reason to expect a diplomatic breakthrough that will bring Tehran into compliance with U.N. Security Council resolutions on the nuclear issue.
Although Iranian diplomats have vaguely promised that they will unveil a new diplomatic initiative, it is likely to be little more than a ploy to buy time, ease sanctions, and drive wedges in the fragile international coalition that is pressuring Iran on the nuclear issue. A better barometer for forecasting Iran’s diplomatic strategy is the Iranian newspaper Kayhan, which often reflects the thinking of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Kayhan recently published two articles that argued that Iran should not make concessions on the nuclear issue and that Iran “must continue the strategy of brave resistance.”
The last time formal talks were held on the nuclear issue in January 2011, Iran brought them to an abrupt end by refusing to negotiate until all sanctions were lifted. Now that it is under greater economic pressure due to U.S. sanctions on Iran’s central bank and EU oil sanctions, Tehran may seek to trade temporary tactical concessions on its uranium enrichment program for a rollback of sanctions.
Iran also has an incentive to string out the negotiations to stave off more sanctions and to drive a wedge between the P5-plus-1 countries by peeling away Russia and China, which have taken much softer positions against Iran’s nuclear program. British and French diplomats are reportedly concerned that the Obama Administration may keep the negotiations going—regardless of how unproductive they might be—to avoid the possibility of an Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear program as an act of anticipatory self defense before the U.S. presidential election.
The Obama Administration and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have clashing views on the Iranian nuclear issue. Netanyahu has warned that Israel will take military action if diplomacy fails to halt Iran’s nuclear weapons efforts in the coming months, while President Obama has argued that more time is needed for sanctions to force Iran to the negotiating table.
However, there is little chance that Tehran will negotiate in good faith and even less chance that it will agree to a diplomatic solution that effectively removes the potential threat of an Iranian nuclear capability.
The U.S. cannot afford to be suckered into endless talks that allow Tehran to buy time to build a nuclear weapon. Negotiations with Iran should be structured to produce immediate, concrete results in halting Iran’s uranium enrichment program, not stretched out to advance Tehran’s duplicitous agenda or suit the political needs of the White House.