What Happens To The Iran Talks Now?

Monday is the deadline for reaching a comprehensive agreement on Tehran’s nuclear program. Despite some hopeful signs in recent weeks, it is not likely to be met: not only have the negotiators failed to resolve some of the major sticking points in the talks, Senate Republicans once again made clear in a letter to Obama this week that they will kill any deal they don’t like – possibly meaning any deal at all -especially if the president attempts to circumvent Congress in enacting it. Acknowledging this reality, Fred Kaplan favors extending the talks for another interim period, given the grim alternative:

As Winston Churchill famously said, “To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war,” and the situation is no different here, as long as it’s clear we’re not being taken for a ride. As long as the interim accord isn’t altered, Iran will not easily be able to move closer to a nuclear bomb. And on a broader level, the United States and Iran have some common interests, not least in countering Islamist extremists in the Middle East (or at least Sunni extremists, such as al-Qaida and ISIS).

The P5+1 talks are the two countries’ only diplomatic forum; as long as it’s not a forum for deception, it’s a good idea, on many grounds, to keep them going.

The same was true of the U.S.-Soviet Strategic Arms Limitation Talks during the Cold War. For their first 15 years or so, the talks accomplished little in reducing strategic arms; but, had the forum not existed, it would have been much harder to make genuine progress, in cutting arms and ending the Cold War, when the time grew ripe. Who knows: the same may be true, a decade or so from now, with Iran.

But Gary Sick fears that failure to reach a deal will empower opponents of detente in Tehran and weaken the US’s leverage:

The primary leverage that the U.S.-led side has brought to the table is the international sanctions regime that has limited Iran’s energy exports and choked off its access to international financial networks. But those are not U.N. sanctions; they rely primarily on Washington’s ability to persuade or pressure companies in countries whose governments do not endorse those sanctions to refrain from trade with or investment in Iran, under threat that noncompliance could result in their being shut out of the international banking system. But if Iran is internationally perceived to have made a good-faith offer of compromise to no avail, the dynamic could change. Washington might no longer have that leverage.

Nazila Fathi notes how the long-running dispute has already empowered the Iranian hardliners, making the case for an amicable resolution all the stronger:

When the sanctions made it difficult for the government to sell oil legally, the Revolutionary Guards took charge of Iran’s underground, illegal oil market. The Guards were also able to seize control of oil projects left incomplete by foreign investors forced to abandon them because of the sanctions. All this has helped the Guards to expand their political and economic influence. If the standoff over Iran’s nuclear program ends, the Guards will lose much of this power. As Tehran economist Saeed Laylaz explains: “The hard-liners are opposed to a deal because they will lose their control over huge revenues that they have controlled and wasted over the past few years.”

Bearing this in mind, Rouhani’s conservative opponents warned him ahead of his trip to the U.N. General Assembly in New York in September to avoid reconciliation with the United States, which is widely seen as the key to ending the sanctions.

And Charles Recknagel reviews the benefits of a deal to both Iran and Western countries:

For both Iran and the West, the potential benefits of ending the nuclear crisis and lifting international sanctions on Tehran could be enormous. Iran, which has seen sanctions dramatically reduce world demand for its oil, not only wants to increase its exports again, it also needs Western investment and technology to revitalize its oil and natural-gas industry, kick-start its economy, and lift its standard of living. At the same time, many Western energy companies want to return to work in Iran, which holds the world’s fourth-largest proven crude-oil reserves and the world’s second-largest gas reserves. Many other Western, nonoil, businesses regard Iran — with 80 million people — as a rich potential consumer market.

But nobody expects a nuclear deal to lead to instantaneous changes.

What’s actually happening behind closed doors in Tehran and Vienna this week remains opaque. But the underlying reasons for continuing this dialogue remain powerful: Iran’s nuclear program is currently suspended, and the consequences of a breakdown for the entire region are dire. We need persistence. And, somehow, hope.