Iran War Weekly — March 18, 2013

From Frank Brodhead’s Iran War Weekly update:

As readers may/will recall, we are between negotiating sessions about Iran’s nuclear program. After an eight-month hiatus, restarting negotiations between the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council) and Iran was significant. Even more significant, and also surprising, was that the negotiations in Kazakhstan in February generated cautious optimism among diplomats, and a second round of negotiations is now scheduled for early April, again in Kazakhstan.

The scheduling of a second meeting in April is significant not just because it holds out the hope of “progress,” long absent in these talks, but also because it indicates that Iran considers its nuclear positions to be based on interests that will not be derailed by their presidential election in June. This is in contrast to what happened during the US presidential election last fall, when nuclear talks with Iran were suspended for the lengthy campaign season.

This week representatives of Iran and the P5+1 are meeting in Istanbul for “technical talks.” The contents of these talks (as well as their location) are secret; but the general understanding is that policy wonks will work out some details and timetables for the implementation of the P5+1 negotiating proposals that were presented to Iran in February in Kazakhstan. As several of the “Overview” articles linked below indicate, these proposals are still far from what Iran might be expected to accept; but as Farideh Farhi suggests, probably the best outcome possible within diplomatic reality would be if the US and Iran agreed to trade small amounts of sanctions relief for small curbs on Iran’s enrichment program. Even these baby steps, however, may be too much to hope for.

In Washington, meanwhile, President Obama prepares to visit Israel; and on the eve of his trip he made a speech in which he claimed that Iran is at least a year away from producing a nuclear weapon. This is vintage Obama, splitting the difference between the Israeli position that Iran is much closer to a bomb, and the Iranian position that Iran does not want a bomb. It is also inaccurate, in sense that the US intelligence czar testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee last week that there is still no evidence that Iran is seeking a bomb. Moreover, expert opinion generally holds that it would take Iran years, not months, to produce an arsenal of nuclear weapons if it decided to do so.

While the President’s PR team is low-balling expectations for significant policy developments during his trip to Israel, it appears the Prime Minister Netanyahu will press him for greater military support, and perhaps military action, in Syria. In the Syria section below I’ve linked several articles outlining the growing militarization of the US strategy toward Syria, where the conflict just passed its second anniversary. With today’s Syrian airstrikes in Lebanon, we now have armed conflicts on all of Syria’s international borders. The disaster seems unstoppable.

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