Iran Nuclear Talks: 3 Issues Shaping the Outcome

In preparation for Obama's visit to Israel, an envoy from the Obama administration "reassured" Israeli leaders that the president will remain firm on the Iranian nuclear issue.

But what's the real story behind the Iranian nuclear threat? Here are the three biggest factors determining the outcome of nuclear talks. 

1. Enrichment

At the heart of Western concern over Iran is its nuclear enrichment program. In order to have a functioning nuclear program, whether weaponized or peaceful, Iran must produce enriched uranium containing the isotope u-235. For uranium used in a nuclear reactor, it must contain 2-3% u-235, while to produce a nuclear weapon, it must be enriched to around 90%.

Western leaders were inflamed this week by reports that Iran has completed construction of a new enrichment facility that will speed up the production of enriched uranium. Iranian leaders insist that the enriched uranium will be used exclusively for energy purposes, but Western leaders claim Iran is building a bomb. Benjamin Netanyahu set a "red line" for how much enriched uranium Iran can possess before Israel will invade, and at current production speeds that point will arrive sometime this summer. 

But when enriched uranium is converted to reactor fuel, it loses its potential to be weaponized. Iran has recently resumed the conversion of uranium into fuel, a move that will slow the growth of uranium stockpiles and could potentially avert the crossing of the "red line."

2. Sanctions

The U.S. and other world powers are currently enforcing sanctions against Iran in an attempt to discourage it from continuing its uranium-enrichment program. The important thing to remember about sanctions is that they do not target only the Iranian regime, they also indiscriminately punish the Iranian people for a nuclear program they have no control over.

International sanctions have caused Iran's currency to take a nosedive, which has in turn dramatically increased the price of staple goods for ordinary Iranians. Regime leaders, of course, will never have to worry about being able to afford basic food supplies, meaning only the country's middle-class and poor are suffering as a result of U.S. policy. In fact, there's a strong case to be made that sanctions have no effect whatsoever on the regime.

But it's indisputable that sanctions cause grave harm to vast numbers of innocent people. Health organizations report that tens of thousands of Iranian children are at risk of death due to sanctions blocking medical goods from entering Iran. Similar sanctions employed against Iraq in the 1990s are estimated to have killed roughly 500,000 children.

Although nuclear talks are set to resume this month, it's easy to see why Iranian leaders say negotiations are "futile" while the sanctions continue.

 3. Media manipulation

Western media has played a large role in promoting hostility toward Iran, making it more likely that Americans and Europeans would support a strike on the country. The most notorious recent example of this was a fabricated story published in the Associated Press claiming to provide evidence that Iran is indeed pursuing a nuclear weapon.

The story was based on a single graph given to the AP by "a country critical of Iran's nuclear program." Nuclear scientists quickly pointed out that the graph contained amateurish errors "unlikely to have been made by research scientists working at a national level."

But media manipulation of the public in support of a war with Iran goes much deeper than this; in fact, it's an easy proposition to demonstrate to anyone who follows Western media. Amid all the fear-mongering op-eds warning that Iran's nuclear program is "directly threaten[ing] a neighbor with annihilation" or the dubious claims of unprovoked Iranian aggression against Western assets, it's almost impossible to find the other side of the story.

When, for instance, was the last time you read a story about how actual experts on the issue (in contrast to self-serving politicians) say there is "no imminent threat of a nuclear-armed Iran?" When was the last time you saw an evening news report about the 2007 National Intelligence Estimate that found Iran stopped pursuing a nuclear bomb in 2003 — a report that top US officials say is "still accurate?" Better yet, when was the last time CNN told you that the head of the IDF — the very highest official in the entire Israeli military — says Iran is not building a nuclear bomb

These are the facts that are important to remember as talks resume on the Iranian nuclear program. Despite what many in the U.S. government and Western media would have you believe, the Iranian nuclear issue is not as one-sided as it may at first seem.