Iran and the P5+1 couldn’t get past the issue of Iran halting all nuclear enrichment at the latest round of talks on May 23. Aside from cessation of all enrichment, the U.S. wants Fordow — Iran’s fortified underground nuclear site — shut down until inspections can be completed. Iran has asked for relief from sanctions levied against its oil sector in return for some type of halt of highly enriched uranium, but the U.S. scoffed at such an idea. The issue of continued enrichment has been the crux of the argument since the beginning.
Once again, talks with Iran have gone nowhere. But before you immediately blame the Iranian regime for this latest chapter in a 32-year stalemate — and I know a lot of people are itching to do so — look a little closer at the P5+1 when casting judgment. This time, the U.S. shoulders the blame.
I recently wrote at length on PolicyMic about the potential terms of a deal and that given Iran’s weakened pulse at this point due to crippling sanctions, the regime would be more willing to give up ground on the nuclear issue than in the past. The U.S. however should have had realistic demands when entering talks. Apparently, nobody on the P5+1 negotiating team bothered to listen to Iranian chief negotiator Saeed Jalili the numerous times he has reiterated that Iran will never give up its right to peaceful nuclear energy. This point is crucial in being able to come to any type of deal.
At this point, the outlook for compromise looks bleak. But former Iranian negotiator Seyed Hossein Mousavian thinks that a real compromise could be reached, as long as the U.S. is willing to abandon its long held stipulation that Iran must cease all uranium enrichment. This demand is verging on becoming negotiation hack. Iranian negotiators are correct in saying that this is an old demand that will never be accommodated. Even if Iran halted enrichment, the lackluster quid pro quo hardly dents Iranian desires. As Hassan Abedini, a state-run media official stated after recent negotiations ended, “Giving up 20% enrichment levels in return for plane spare parts is a joke”.
So what happens now? Israeli leaders have said that even though Iran may become more willing to allow inspectors greater access to nuclear sites, the possibility of attack is still on the table. This is hardly surprising and an expected response so as to keep pressure on Iran in further negotiations. Israel will more than likely back off as long as the negotiations continue, something both Iran and the U.S. highly desire. Israeli sentiment will surely change if talks go south on June 17 during the next round in Moscow. The next meeting will more than likely focus on Iran’s stockpile of uranium enriched to 19.75%. Most doubt the necessity of such fissile material for anything besides a nuclear weapon, but Tehran claims it to be a necessity for medical purposes.
Iran has agreed in the past to export its stockpile of 19.75% enriched uranium, including a possibility to do so again in this latest round of talks. However the Obama administration has failed to offer anything close to an acceptable incentive to do so. Israel has also been meddling in negotiations, and is directly responsible for the demand of the Fordow facility closure, something Iran will not do.
The U.S. and the rest of the P5+1 have a historic opportunity to break the dangerous cycle of mistrust and fear. It’s time to show the world that the U.S. is still capable of wielding its soft power, and Iran is the perfect place to start.