Iran Nuclear Talks Delayed, But Time is Ripe For a Breakthrough

High-level negotiations between the five permanent United Nations Security Council members (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) and Germany — the P5+1 — have been stalled since last June. Talks were expected to resume this week but fell apart either because Iran didn’t accept to meet in Istanbul or because the six nations were “not ready to negotiate." Whatever the reason a little delay is no reason for alarm, as a confluence of factors is creating favorable conditions for a breakthrough agreement. Israel’s parliamentary election results, U.S.-led diplomacy, and crippling economic sanctions, and Iran’s upcoming presidential election bode well for a peaceful resolution.

Israel’s January 22 elections will bring a sea change as more than half of the 120 seats in parliament will be filled with newcomers. The new members are not only fresh-faced but signal a dramatic shift away from the establishment. The newly formed Yesh Atid ("There is a Future") Party received the second most votes overall and won a remarkable 19 seats. The party succeeded not only due to the star power of their leader Yair Lapid, a former TV anchor with an Anderson Cooper-like visage, but also because they ran a focused and energetic campaign on domestic, secular, middle-class issues. Another shift is a “boost of female power” from a record number of new female legislators. Prime Minister Netanyahu remains in power but will be forced to create a coalition government with the surprise victors from center and pro-peace parties. Israel’s electorate has sent a clear message to Netanyahu to take his “finger off the trigger” with regards to Iran.

In the U.S., Obama’s re-election brings a continuity of approach, diplomacy combined with crippling sanctions. Iran’s economy is in a tailspin and inflation is rampant. After 33 years of watered down U.S. sanctions, both the U.S. and the European Union leveled crushing blows in 2011-2012. By targeting Iran’s central bank, the West has triggered a 50% reduction in oil exports and an all-time low for the national currency. On top of that, new U.S. sanctions take effect next week that will create an almost complete trade embargo and further isolation. The U.S., boosted by the undeniable success of sanctions and spared from a saber-rattling Republican in the top office, will have a steady-hand in upcoming negotiations.

Iran’s term-limited president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had an especially combative relationship with Western governments during his 7-year tenure. Campaigning for this year’s June election doesn’t begin until March but the speculated candidates all have deep experience in nuclear negotiations and strong ties to Iran’s highest office holder, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Khamenei’s public squabbles with Ahmadinejad have shown the Leader to be particularly concerned with shoring up religious governmental authority. A reeling economy and strengthening opposition groups may be enough additional incentive for Khamenei to push for a resolution to the nuclear distraction. Iranian resistance groups see Khamenei posturing for a fully subservient president and his consolidated power may actually simplify negotiations.

Fifty-six years after the U.S. practically founded Iran’s nuclear program, the potential exists to start it on the path to good standing. The compromise, as described by Hossein Mosavian, will require the P5+1 to recognize Iran’s legitimate right to nuclear energy in return for Iran accepting maximum oversight by the International Atomic Energy Agency and implementing a transparent plan to minimize the amount of stockpiled 20% enriched uranium.