While February’s nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 (Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States, and Germany) did not yield any immediate breakthroughs, both sides showed signs of cautious optimism and a willingness to make concessions in a shift from their previous, hardline, bellicose stances. To follow up on the limited success, all sides agreed to meet once more in Almaty, Kazakhstan from April 5-6 after a preliminary round of talks between nuclear experts on March 18 in Istanbul.
The current round of talks are between technical experts, who have opted to meet behind closed doors — presumably so that they are able to establish ground rules in regards to what’s on the table for practically scaling down Iran’s nuclear capabilities free of pressure from meddlesome politicians. As such, it is unlikely that the parties involved will extensively publicize the details and results of the talks. However, a look at the previous round of talks and their participants’ subsequent remarks can give us some insight as to what is on the table.
Last April, the Obama administration shifted from to a more reasonable, relaxed stance, ceding that Iran has the right to enrich uranium at the 5% levels it needs for domestic energy purposes. However, what the U.S. and Israel are really worried about are the 20% enrichment levels at places like the Fordow Nuclear Facility, which Iran uses to produce isotopes to treat its cancer patients. Iran has refused previous fuel swap deals, which would involve a halt to 20% enrichment in exchange for the necessary enriched material from Western powers. It has, however, made vague statements suggesting a willingness to return to low grade enrichment levels once it has as much enriched uranium as it needs to produce the requisite amount of medical isotopes.
This may open a door for the west to reasonably request that Iran close the deeply entrenched, fortified Fordow nuclear facility, provided Iranian nuclear experts (some of whom were potentially targets for assassination by U.S.-Israel backed terrorists) deem that Iran has enough enriched materials for domestic purposes.
The U.S. will undoubtedly pursue its demand that Iran halt production at Fordow. This time it may actually be feasible because, as per the Almaty talks in February, the U.S. is willing to ease sanctions on Iran’s lucrative gold and precious metals industry. More importantly, America has expressed it may partially alleviate sanctions on Iran’s financial and banking sector, which have depreciated Iran’s currency and contributed to a rise in commodity prices, crippling the Iranian economy and adversely affecting its people.
There is good reason to be cautiously optimistic. Saeed Jalili, Iran’s head nuclear negotiator, stated that the talks were a "positive step" that "moved closer to our viewpoint." Although the previously announced U.S. concessions on its crippling sanctions will likely not be enough to coax Iran into reducing its enrichment levels, particularly in the face of other devastating, draconian sanctions, they establish a general platform on which both sides can expand to reach a feasible agreement.
As in any international conflict, hardline war hawks are counterproductively taking advantage of the instability to bolster their domestic support by pandering to the lowest common denominator. Despite the promising comments from other Iranian officials, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khameni counterproductively called out the West in public for not offering to alleviate enough sanctions.
Even worse, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has consistently rejected the potential for any Iranian nuclear concessions through diplomacy, and instead advocated for further sanctions and increased militancy. In the U.S., Netanyahu could get his way, as a bipartisan majority of senators are trying to pass a resolution promising Israel unquestioning support for an overt attack on Iran. Republicans and Democrats in the House are simultaneously pushing for even further sanctions, under instructions from the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
Although the diplomatic solution certainly will not happen overnight, it is showing promise. Unfortunately, hawks from all states involved threaten to undermine such a solution, further increasing Middle Eastern instability.