By Nader Uskowi
For the West, there is also the danger of overplaying its own hands. In the current political atmosphere in Iran, the acceptance by the senior leadership of the halt to 20-percent enrichment, closure of Fordo plant and signing the IAEA additional protocol without lifting of all sanctions would be simply a political suicide. The settlement of the decade-old dispute would require the end of all sanctions.
Moscow Talks between Iran and the six major powers ended in failure today. The two sides, after seven rounds of talks in the past four years, could not even work out a minor technical agreement, even though the host Russia was desperate to show some progress. At the end, they decided to hold a low-level meeting in Istanbul on 3 July to “focus purely on technical details rather than the broader political issues,” as EU’s Catherine Ashton said.
The Iranian delegation came to Moscow determined not to give an inch on enrichment issue. The Iranian thinking behind such determination can be summarized as follow:
- The U.S. has lost its war in Iraq and is losing in Afghanistan. It is in no shape to start another conflict with Iran.
- Israel is unable to attack Iran without active support from the Americans.
- The EU is in the midst of a financial crisis and cannot afford to worsen or prolong the crisis through a conflict in the Persian Gulf.
- The West cannot afford to keep the Iranian crude out of the market for long and will have to ease or scrap the oil embargo sooner than later.
- Russia and China would veto any action against Iran at the UN and the latter will keep purchasing the Iranian crude.
- Then why compromise now, the thinking goes. If Iran stands firm on its demand of continuing to enrich uranium even at 20-percent purity, the West will have no choice but to give in by this summer, the height of the US presidential campaign, and ease or lift the sanctions, at least the upcoming oil embargo.
- The West will be unable to stop Iran’s nuclear program even if it wanted to and did make the bomb.
The problem with such thinking is not the accuracy or lack of any of these points. The danger inherent in such thinking, however, is for the Iranian leaders to overplay their hands, a tendency they have demonstrated over the years, like in the hostage crisis, the last years of war with Iraq and now going nuclear.
What if the world could survive without the Iranian crude, what if taking hard line against Iran could help both candidates during the US presidential campaign, what if Israel really sees a nuclear Iran as an ‘existential’ threat, what if the US would have more firepower available after the end of the Iraq war and the drawdown in Afghanistan… The Iranian leadership cannot afford to construct the best-case scenario and starts believing it in its entirety. There are not-so-well scenarios as well where Iran could suffer economic disaster or gets involved in a prolonged conflict, with all the uncertainties they would create for the country and its leadership.
The more prudent course of action is to compromise on some part of the enrichment program, like the 20-percent variety. After all, it was originally Ahmadinejad’s own proposal to forego the 20-percent enrichment through a uranium fuel swap agreement with the West, a proposal that didn't go well with the hardliners in the West and especially in Iran.