Falcons of all stripes ready to melt if Iran drags its feet in nuclear negotiations | Simon tisdall
VSThe coordinated warnings last week from the US, Israel and the EU that “time is running out” to revive a deal limiting Iran’s nuclear activities raise a worrying question: What will opposing governments do if , as seems likely, the hard-line Tehran regime continues to drag its feet while hoarding the means to build a nuclear weapon?
Israeli leaders, as usual, do not mince their words. âEvery day that passes, every delay in negotiations brings Iran one step closer to a nuclear bomb. If a terrorist regime wants to acquire a nuclear weapon, we must act. We must make it clear that the civilized world will not allow this, âsaid Foreign Minister Yair Lapid.
Antony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, has been more cautious. “We are ready to turn to other options if Iran does not change course … [but] we continue to believe that diplomacy is the most effective way, âhe said. Visiting Jerusalem, Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, predicted that the blocked negotiations approached a “decisive” moment.
The very last thing US President Joe Biden wants as he tries to disengage from the Middle East and focus on China is Israeli military action against Iran that sets the region on fire. However, Naftali Bennett, the Israeli Prime Minister, worried, does not exclude it. âThe world is waiting, the Iranians are delaying and the centrifuges are spinning,â he said.
The fear is real. Most Jewish Israelis – 51% – think Israel should have attacked Iran years ago during the “early stages” of its nuclear development, rather than wait for a negotiated settlement, a new one. Israeli Institute of Democracy survey find. Military action plans against Iran have been “greatly accelerated”, Israel’s top general Aviv Kochavi said last month.
The dangers are clear. The reaction of Ebrahim Raisi, the Iranian arch-conservative, to Western pressures, is less the case. Since his election victory in June, Raisi has refused to join the Vienna talks on the resurrection of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – the 2015 nuclear deal arbitrarily destroyed by Donald Trump – has limited UN inspections and stepped up nuclear-related activities.
Its hardline allies, who control all of Iran’s power centers, say talks will resume “soon” but have not set a date. Worryingly, senior nuclear negotiator Abbas Araghchi has replaced by a skeptical rival, Ali Bagheri Kani.
âBagheri was a senior member of the Iranian negotiating team under former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejadâ¦ He is a staunch opponent of the JCPOA, arguing [it] violates Iran’s national rights and undermines the country’s independence â, said analyst Saheb Sadeghi.
Western governments pushing for the status quo in Vienna face a more fundamental obstacle. For Raisi and his foreign minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, securing sanctions relief by relaunching the nuclear deal is not their top priority. If necessary, they believe, Iran can do without.
“Raisi’s administration has focused on a strategy that prioritizes ‘neutralizing the impact of sanctions’ by strengthening economic ties with neighbors and countries like Russia and China,” Sadeghi wrote. . He believes that the United States, determined to contain Iran, would always find reasons to maintain the sanctions, even if all its demands were met.
Observers expect Raisi to pursue a strategic partnership with Beijing, which is hungry for Iranian oil and gas. The so-called âlooking eastâ policy also envisions expanded relations with countries such as Pakistan, ostracized from the United States, and states in Central and East Asia.
To this end, Mehdi Safari, former Ambassador to China and Russia, has been appointed to a senior post of Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs in charge of economic diplomacy.
Iran is in dire need of new trading partners. But it is benefiting immensely from soaring international oil prices, while its isolated and Covid-affected economy is said to show signs of recovery. Regional states like Lebanon, plagued by ruinous energy shortages, are becoming increasingly dependent.
This indicates a second strand of Raisi’s strategy: a determined attempt to mend or cement relations across the Arab world. Amir-Abdollahian recently visited Egypt, Syria and Lebanon and met with leaders of the United Arab Emirates. After months of secret talks with Saudi Arabia, hosted by Iraq, limited diplomatic relations may soon be reestablished.
If that happens, it would be a big step towards rehabilitating Iran. The regional anti-Iran coalition backed by the United States and Israel could implode as other Gulf states follow suit. As Washington’s attention wanes, and despite the “Abraham Accords”, Israel may end up feeling more vulnerable than ever – and more easily triggered.
Alternatively, the Emirates Policy Center think tank in Abu Dhabi suggests, Iran’s turn has not been well thought out. While Riyadh and Tehran share an interest in the security of sea lanes and the de-escalation of the conflict in Yemen, Raisi’s insistence on continued regional support for “resistance movements” (Shiite militias and proxy forces) in Iraq and elsewhere) is a big obstacle to any rapprochement. .
Third, it is unlikely that Raisi will unilaterally abandon the Vienna process, which would play into the hands of his enemies. Instead, when Iranian negotiators return, they will set more stringent conditions, such as measurable short-term economic benefits, in return for compliance.
They will insist on separating the nuclear issue from issues such as ballistic missiles and regional security. Meanwhile, as talks drag on, Iran’s nuclear capabilities will inexorably increase. At some point, frustrated Western leaders may stop and move on to what they call âPlan Bâ.
No one seems to know what that entails – but it’s probably bad news.
Given Israel’s visceral (and fully reciprocal) enmity, past American duplicity, and European helplessness and reluctance, Raisi’s approach has some sinister logic. But he ignores the fate of Iranian citizens impoverished by the sanctions. It ignores concerns about nuclear proliferation. It threatens a permanent break with Western democracies.
Worse yet, it opens the door for hawks of all stripes who recklessly promote military solutions when in reality such âsolutionsâ do not exist. War with Iran? Just because it hasn’t happened yet doesn’t mean it won’t.