First Published: 2012-11-08

 

Obama set to press Iran again on nuclear issue

 

Analysts say US President will 'extend his hand' again to Iran to scale back its nuclear programme.

 

Middle East Online

Through diplomacy

By Simon STURDEE - VIENNA

Freed from the constraints of a lengthy election campaign, US President Barack Obama now has another shot at pressing Iran through diplomacy to scale back its nuclear programme, analysts say.

But despite Obama's increased leeway and tough sanctions against Iran, resolving the decade-old deadlock and silencing Israel's "drums of war" remains a tall order indeed.

A new round of talks between Iran and six world powers, the first since June, is expected by the end of the year, or at the latest in early 2013, analysts say. A rare bilateral US-Iran meeting might even happen.

"It's pretty clear that the United States and its European allies are gearing up to try again for diplomatic engagement," Mark Fitzpatrick, nuclear expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, said.

"But the question is, what will be on the table? Iran won't be making concessions unless it gets some form of sanctions relief."

The last offer from the P5+1 -- the US, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany -- was made to Iran in May by the group's chief negotiator, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, in high-level talks in Baghdad.

This "Stop, Shut and Ship" package called on Iran to cease enriching uranium to purities of 20 percent -- technically speaking not far short of the 90 percent needed for a nuclear weapon. It also told Iran to close its Fordo enrichment facility, and to export its existing stockpiles of 20-percent uranium.

Iran, which insists its nuclear programme is peaceful, rejected the proposals as they failed to offer sufficient relief from sanctions that have begun to cause real problems for its economy, while insisting on a recognition of its "right" to enrich.

Since another P5+1 meeting in Moscow in June, the process -- as well as parallel talks between Iran and the UN atomic agency, the IAEA -- has been on ice because of the US election campaign.

"The administration was in a very defensive position for the past six months," Mark Hibbs from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said.

"It was also difficult for Iran because they didn't want to negotiate with someone who might not be in office after November."

NO PAIN NO GAIN

According to Siavush Randjbar-Daemi, a Middle East and Iran lecturer at Manchester University in England, Iran has been making "smoke signals" that it wants to talk.

A major reason for this, he believes -- though other analysts are not so sure -- is that what Tehran calls the "economic war" waged against it by the West in the form of sanctions is making the regime more pliable.

The sharp drop in oil revenues "is not sustainable in the long run," Randjbar-Daemi said. "I don't think Iran realistically has any other option than seeking an understanding with the West."

But in return the Iranian leadership won't want to lose face, meaning the P5+1 will have to sweeten their package of proposals.

This means first and foremost swift sanctions relief, which is easier said than done, particularly for Obama.

"Obama may only have the authority to waive a very limited degree of sanctions," said Trita Parsi, the Iranian-born author of a book about Obama's diplomacy early in his first term when the president famously offered Iran an "extended hand."

"Congress ultimately holds the power to lift sanctions, and there is a near consensus on Capitol Hill that it will not happen anytime soon."

In any case, a vicious circle exists because the P5+1 will insist on "confidence-building measures" from Iran before promising any let-up in economic pressure.

"There is reason for some optimism, but it is guarded optimism because in the final analysis it depends on whether Iran will 'play'," said Hibbs. "If they won't, all bets are off."

RED LINE

Parsi believes Obama's "unique opportunity ... to make diplomatic headway" will expire in mid-March, when campaigning starts for Iran's presidential election in June.

"After that, Iran enters its own election season and the paralysis that comes with it. This may be his last best shot to resolve the US-Iran conflict peacefully."

Time is also of the essence because every day Iran is enriching more uranium and expanding its nuclear facilities, as outlined in the IAEA's quarterly reports (the next is due this month).

This fact is not lost on Israel, the Middle East's sole if undeclared nuclear-weapon state, which sees its very existence threatened by a nuclear Iran, and which has made no secret that it may resort to military action.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who also has an election to win in January, told the UN General Assembly in September that "at most by next summer" Iran would have enough 20-percent uranium to "move on to the final stage."

 

Essebsi claims victory in Tunisia presidential poll

Barzani in Mount Sinjar after end of jihadist siege

U-turn: Qatar pledges 'full support' to Sisi's Egypt

UAE blames 'irresponsible' non-OPEC output for oil price plunge

Turkey TV regulator fines popular show over ‘dance with foreigners’

Hollande urges ‘utmost vigilance’ after brutal weekend attacks in France

Turkey graft scandal: Four ex-ministers await decision on their fate

Berlin seeks to set up trauma centre for IS rape victims

Syria claims downing of Israeli reconnaissance drone

Rafah border crossing reopens for two days

Israel parliament approves funding for settler tourism plan

Five jihadists killed in clashes with Egypt police

Coalition targets ‘Islamic State’ in areas north of Aleppo

Libya Islamist-backed government urges foreigners to return to Tripoli

Palestinians enter Egypt as Rafah crossing reopens for two days

Davutoglu accuses EU of 'dirty campaign' against Turkey

Raid on terrorists accidentally kills Saudi youth in Awamiya town

Egypt sentences ‘spy for Israel’ to ten years in prison

Jordan ends eight-year moratorium on death penalty

Egypt President removes powerful spy chief

Tunisia votes for president in final leg of democratic transition

Turkey acquits sociologist over 1998 explosion

EU foreign affairs head to visit Iraq

Turkey court remands Samanyolu TV chief in custody

IS threatens to kill Lebanese soldiers held hostage

Obama concerned about Egypt mass trials

Tough times for oil-rich GCC

Tumbling oil prices cut budgets of Mideast arms exporters

Iraq’s peshmerga ‘break’ Mount Sinjar siege

Turkish media chiefs charged with terrorism

Iraq may delay payment of Kuwait war reparations

Over $900 million needed to help Syria children

Saudi rules out oil output reduction

Dutch populist lawmaker to be tried for 'fewer Moroccans' vow

Outrage in Algeria over Islamist call for Algerian author's death

Iraq Kurds, coalition launch offensive to retake Sinjar

Three years to end Israeli occupation in UN resolution

Yemen’s Huthis seize Sanaa state offices

Somalia appoints new PM after bitter infighting

Blow to Israel: EU court removes Hamas from terror blacklist

Sharp rise in Syria passport applications

Turkey FM visit to Iran highlights Syria divide

UK troops mistreated Iraq detainees in 2004

Saudi to carry on massive public spending

Iran to Australia: We warned you about the gunman