Three worries about next Iran talks

Trita Parsi writes: Sometime in the next few weeks, the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (P5+1) will meet with Iran to pick up diplomacy from where it left off last summer. So far, neither side has shown much appetite for compromise. Both sides have insisted on maximalist objectives; consequently, progress has been absent.

This time around it might be different. Fabricated or not, there is a sense that the end game is near. The window for this breakthrough likely closes by March of next year as Iran enters its New Year festivities followed by its paralyzing presidential elections. But there are three things that worry me, that can cause the parties to lose yet another opportunity for peace.

1. Grandstanding versus statesmanship

In the words of Massachusetts Institute of Technology nuclear expert Jim Walsh, diplomacy is not about getting everything you desire and leaving the other side with nothing. Ultimately, it is about compromise, even though that word carries a negative connotation in both the American and Iranian political discourse.

In past talks, both sides have pushed for wildly unrealistic proposals, demanding a lot from the other side and offering little in return. If such grandstanding continues, rather than the courageous statesmanship that is needed to reach a deal, then we are in trouble.

Iran can’t expect that merely stopping enrichment at the 20% level will be sufficient to close the Iranian file and lift all sanctions. At the same time, lifting of both US and EU sanctions must be part of the solution. In previous rounds, Washington refused to put sanctions relief on the table, thinking — innocently perhaps — that pressure alone would bring the Iranians to compromise. Obama administration officials have told experts in Washington that it will likely go back to the table with the same package as in the summer; that is, with no sanctions relief. European diplomats, while admitting that no deal is possible without sanctions relief, tell me that they do not expect any sanctions to begin to be lifted until late 2013 at the earliest. Continued refusal to make sanctions relief part of the mix from the outset will prove to be a decisive mistake. [Continue reading...]

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