After a six-month delay, representatives Iran and the “P5+1” met in Kazakhstan today to renew negotiations about Iran’s nuclear program. Early news reports say that “the West” offered Iran a very modest lifting of sanctions if Iran would take steps to halt or alter significant parts of its nuclear program. Iran is expected to make its reply tomorrow, during a second day of talks. As indicated in pre-meeting analyses linked below, Iran is expected to reject the West’s proposal as trivial and insincere, wanting instead for the P5+1 to recognize Iran’s rights to enrich uranium under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and to lay out an offer that would quickly remove all the economic sanctions against it.
The negotiations between the P5+1 and Iran are complicated by several issues, most recently the hiatus imposed by the US presidential election and another one coming soon by Iran’s presidential election, which will take place in June. But the larger question is why the P5+1 – or for practical purposes, the United States – is reluctant to offer significant reductions in economic sanctions, knowing full well that Iran will not accept the baby-step reductions now on offer. Is it because the United States thinks that sanctions “are working”? While there is abundant evidence that sanctions are causing hardship to ordinary Iranians, the sanctions have not and do not seem likely to alter the Iranian leadership’s nuclear positions. So, what is the plan?
Indeed, there are growing indications that sanctions have been expanded to a point that is unsustainable. In the current instance, the P5+1 has put on the table its willingness to cancel sanctions, only recently put in place, that seek to prohibit the use of gold to buy Iranian oil. Sanctions on gold were seen as closing a loophole in earlier sanctions that attempted to block the international banking system from processing payments to Iran. But now it turns out that blocking such gold payments is causing problems for Turkey; and sanctions currently under consideration in Congress that would tell the European Central Bank what to do are unlikely to be well-received in the EU. More generally, as Hillary Mann Leverett explains in an article linked below, third-party sanctions are what she calls a “political and legal house of cards,” illegal under all kinds of international law. If the sanctions route is reaching a dead end, what’s next?
In addition to the essays about negotiations and sanctions, I encourage a reading of the essay by former Iranian nuclear negotiator Hossein Mousavian; an interesting short essay on the “Cyrus Cylinder”; a enthusiastic review (and some dissent) re: the Leverett’s important new book, Going to Tehran; an interesting essay by Nima Shirazi that takes a critical look at the Oscar-winning film ”Argo”; and a set of good/useful articles and essays about the current situation in Syria.
One more thing: for people who are anti-war-movement types, I call to your/our attention to latest Gallup Poll survey that shows 99 percent of Americans think Iran’s nuclear program is a threat to the United States. People, we are not doing too well on our anti-war education. Indeed, there is barely a ripple of agitation against war with Iran in either the blogosphere or in the streets. Of course, there are many things to keep us way too busy; but it’s hard to miss the war-with-Iran train wreck coming down the tracks, and 99 percent of Americans are (so far) not with us.