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."

 

Arab leaders meet in Sweimeh on conflicts, 'terror'

No unanimity on Syria ahead of Arab Summit

4 besieged Syria towns to be evacuated under deal

Tunisians demand Muslim marriage decree revoked

Historic Casablanca buildings crumbling in silence

US arrests Turkish banker for helping Iran violate sanctions

Turkey voices opposition to Kurdish flag in Kirkuk

Engineers to carry out urgent maintenance on IS-held Syria dam

Palestinian president meets Trump envoy at Arab summit

UN says over 300 civilians killed since start of west Mosul offensive

Disputed Iraqi province votes to fly Kurdish flag

Germany laments Turkey's 'unacceptable' spying

Syria opposition says no peace deal without US role

Turkey sends delegation to UK over electronics ban

UN chief urges Arab leaders to confront Syria war

Carlos the Jackal sentenced to life for Paris bombing

Arab League set to oppose Trump Israel embassy shift

Tributes flood in for anti-apartheid hero Ahmed Kathrada

US vows to never allow 'Israel-bashing' at UN

Netanyahu ban on MP visits to flashpoint holy site challenged

IS launches counter-attack to defend north Syria town

Saudi intercepts four ‘smuggled’ Yemen rebel missiles

Saudi to set up investment fund to help Jordan

Iran slams Bahrain terror cell claims as ‘delusional’

UN says 30 million unsure of next meal in MENA region

Putin to meet Iran President in Moscow

US, allies talk of post-ISIS future, but have no plan

Al-Qaeda, on the rise again, hits Assad where it hurts

Germany’s Turks cast early ballots for Erdogan referendum

German court convicts Pakistani of spying for Iran

Qatar to invest £5bn in UK within five years

'Kill Erdogan' banner probed in Switzerland, Turkey

Arab League chief urges resolution to Syria conflict

Serious challenges for Arab leaders in Amman

Israel arrests 22 ultra-Orthodox sex offenders

Syrian forces pause offensive on IS-held dam for repairs

Dubai's Emaar Malls offers $800m to buy Souq.com

Iraq launches fresh Mosul Old City advance

US-backed fighters battle IS near north Syria town

Hamas partially reopens Beit Hanoun crossing

Iraq investigates Mosul civilian deaths

In Algeria, everyone wants to be MP, few likely to vote

Yemeni rebel supporters flood streets on conflict’s anniversary

Syria fighting damages IS-held dam posing rising water risk

Iran to symbolically sanction 15 US companies