THE NUCLEAR TALKS WITH PERSIA: AN UPDATE
"The regime has invested far too much of its domestic legitimacy in defending Iran's “rights” (defined as domestic enrichment) to completely capitulate now, regardless of the pressure. The nuclear program and “resistance to arrogant powers” are firmly imbedded in the Islamic Republic's ideological raison d'etre. Khamenei, the ultimate decider on the nuclear file, and the Revolutionary Guards will not give up on the program altogether, for it could be a viewed by their supporters and opponents alike as a total defeat. However, Khamenei may accept a deal that constrains Iran's nuclear program but still allows limited enrichment. Under such an agreement, he could tell the Iranian people: “I said we never wanted nuclear weapons and I have issued a fatwa [religious ruling] against them. I insisted that our rights be respected, and now they are.” But if Khamenei cries uncle and dismantles the entire program, how will he explain the billions invested and justify the years of sanctions and isolation to his people? What would it all have been for? Khamenei likely fears such a humiliation more than he fears economic collapse or targeted military strikes against his nuclear facilities.... A permanent end to Iranian enrichment is not in the cards. Instead of pushing for an impossible goal, the United States and other world powers should push for a possible one: an agreement that caps Iranian enrichment at the 5 percent level (sufficient for civilian power plants but far away from bomb-grade) under stringent conditions designed to preclude Tehran's ability to rapidly produce nuclear weapons, including restrictions on Iran's stockpile of low enriched uranium, limitations on centrifuges, intrusive inspections, and halting the construction of a plutonium reactor that could open an alternative pathway to nuclear weapons. Such an accord would allow Khamenei and Rouhani to claim Iran's “rights” had been respected, giving them a face-saving way out of the current nuclear crisis. Even this might be difficult for the Iranian regime to stomach. But if paired with meaningful sanctions relief, it has a much better chance of success than insisting on the complete dismantling of Iran's program".Colin H. Kahl & Alireza Nader, "Zero-Sum Enrichment." The Rand Corporation. 14 October 2013, in www.rand.org.
"In Persia one always heard fine talk and saw paper plans, but no action."Sir William Fraser, Chairman of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company in: "Minutes of a Meeting held at the Foreign Office on the 2nd August 1950", by R. Barnett. In FO371/82375/EP1531/40 (copy in my possession). The nuclear talks between Persia and the Western powers has so far been notable for its positive atmospherics in which the apparently willingness of the Persian delegation to actually engage in substantive discussion and negotiations with its Western counterparts has been widely commented on and praised. As the American analysis, Suzanne Maloney this fact is something which is considerably at variance with past Persian practice:
"For the past eight years, Tehran has appeared utterly unwilling to undertake serious measures to address the world’s concerns around its nuclear issues. That appears to have changed, and while the two sides remain some distance from an actual agreement around the modalities, the fact that the Iranians are now actively seeking formulations that address the high-priority issues offers a basis for optimism that a deal can be achieved" 1.Which is not to gainsay the fact that the talks have not yet resolved some of its most difficult issues, especially those relating to reprocessing and enrichment. As the two RAND corporation experts corrected noted above, the regime in Persia has put a considerable amount of its prestige as well as monies into its nuclear programme. The question for now is: does the West offer Persia a golden bridge to enable an agreement to be concluded? Or should it press its current advantage vis-`a-vis the regime of Mullahs? While I would be the very first to agree with the two RAND analysts that any agreement with Persia will require concessions by both parties the fact of the matter is that the regime in Tehran has not suddenly become agreeable and conciliatory for reasons of its bon fides. The reason for the sudden Persian moderation is that the regime is suffering from the Western sanctions regime. Pur et simple. As the London-based analyst, Katerina Dalacoura has recently noted:
"The Islamic Republic appears to be softening its longstanding policies in favour of a more conciliatory approach. The shift is caused by the country’s long-term decline in the Middle East – and Tehran’s recognition that it must act on this decline 2."In short, now is not the time to engage in unnecessary concessionary negotiations with the regime of Mullahs. Now is the time to craft an agreement with Persia that makes evident that it has been Tehran which has had to climb down and give-in. Or in the words of Goethe:
"You must conquer and rule, or lose and serve, suffer or triumph, be hammer or be anvil".1. Suzanne Maloney, "Iran Nuclear Talks Herald A Beginning, Not A Breakthrough." The Brookings Institute. October 18, 2013 in www.brookings.edu. 2. Katerina Dalacoura, "Iran’s diplomacy shows a recognition of its decline." The Financial Times. 20 October 2013, in www.ft.com.