Hillary Mann Leverett and Flynt Leverett write: Contrary to conventional wishful thinking in American policy circles, developments in the nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 and the Iran-related messages coming out of President Obama’s trip to Israel strongly suggest that the risk of a US-initiated military confrontation with Tehran during Obama’s second term are rising, not falling. This is because Obama’s administration has made an ill-considered wager that it can “diplomatically” coerce Iran’s abandonment of indigenous nuclear fuel cycle capabilities. This is dangerous, for it will become clear over the next year or so – the timeframe Obama himself has set before he would consider Iran able to build nuclear weapons – that the bet has failed. If the administration does not change course and accept Iran’s strategic independence and rising regional influence – including accepting the principle and reality of internationally-safeguarded uranium enrichment in Iran, it will eventually be left with no fallback from which to resist pressure from Israel and its friends in Washington for military strikes, at least against Iranian nuclear facilities.
The just-concluded technical discussions in Istanbul between Iran and the P5+1 should dispel triumphalist optimism about the prospects for progress in nuclear diplomacy with Tehran. After higher-level political talks in Kazakhstan last month, some prominent Iran experts declared that US-instigated sanctions had gotten the Iranians back to the table, perhaps ready to make a deal along lines dictated by the Obama administration.
But a sober reading of the Istanbul meeting says otherwise: Iran has not been “softened up” by sanctions (based on our observations in Iran, only those who haven’t been there recently could possibly think that sanctions are “working” to bring Iran’s population to its knees and change official decision-making). Tehran’s conditions for a long-term deal remain fundamentally what they have been for years – above all, US acceptance of Iran’s revolution and its independence, including its right to enrich under international safeguards. Just as importantly, the Obama administration is no more prepared than prior administrations to accept the Islamic Republic and put forward a proposal that might actually interest Tehran. And Obama’s ability to modify sanctions in the course of negotiations – or lift them as part of a deal – is tightly circumscribed by laws that he himself signed, belying the argument that sanctions are somehow a constructive diplomatic tool. [Continue reading…]