Almaty, the capital of Kazakhstan, was an ideal setting for dialogue on an
evolving international crisis – Iran’s quest for nuclear-weapons capability. The
former Soviet republic voluntarily gave up its nuclear arsenal 20 years ago,
soon after the Soviet Union collapsed.
At the time, president Nursultan
Nazarbayev’s decision was practical. With abundant oil and gas resources,
Kazakhstan chose to invest in economic development, trade and cooperative
relations with countries near and far. This Muslim nation maintains good ties
with the US and Israel, as well as with Russia and many Islamic states. Though
Kazakhstan is the world’s top producer of uranium, it has no nuclear power
Iran, Kazakhstan’s neighbor, has a completely different and
Indeed, only three days after Iranian representatives
met in Almaty with the five permanent UN Security Council members and Germany –
the P5+1 group – Tehran announced a new project to mine uranium and process it
into yellowcake. April 9, the date of the announcement, was National Nuclear
Technology Day in Iran, an occasion President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seized to
declare: “Iran has gone nuclear.”
Though the Iranian leader has not yet
admitted to nuclear-weapons development, suspicions run deep as Iran has
continued to ignore UN and International Atomic Energy Agency requests and
As a result, Iran has been subjected to a series of economic
and financial sanctions, with other, more stringent options under
Seeking a diplomatic solution to the crisis, the P5+1 has
been negotiating with Iran since 2006. After each encounter pleasantries are
exchanged and each side claims progress has been made, though details on the
actual discussions are scant. And soon thereafter, another pronouncement from
Tehran signals an advance in its nuclear program.
The prospect of the
Almaty talks, on April 5 and 6 – the third meeting in three months, the fifth in
the past year – raised some expectations that this time it would be different
and that there might be a breakthrough.
But, once again, the gathering
ended with no progress. The sides “remain far apart on the substance,” said
Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief who has led the negotiations with
Stalemate was predictable, the usual inconclusive outcome known
all too well by IAEA Director Yukiya Amano. The UN nuclear watchdog’s regular
reports have questioned Iran’s intentions and its persistent failure to comply
with IAEA requests.
“We have information indicating that Iran is engaged
in activities relevant to the development of nuclear explosive devices, and
continues to deal with that,” Amano told the Associated Press a couple of days
before the gathering in Almaty. It is a good sign that Amano was recently
reelected IAEA director. But more concerted action will be required if there is
to be any chance of convincing Iran’s leaders to alter their nuclear
The Almaty meeting came three weeks after President Barack Obama,
standing in Jerusalem, reaffirmed that US policy is “to prevent Iran from
acquiring a nuclear weapon” and declared again that “all options are on the
table.” Reinforcing the administration’s posture, Secretary of State John Kerry
warned during his own diplomatic tour of the region that world powers will not
pursue talks indefinitely with Iran over its nuclear program.
however, may well not take these statements seriously. Soon will come the
seventh anniversary of the on-again-offagain P5+1 negotiations with Iran. When
the next meeting will take place remains uncertain. There will be some
temptation to wait until after Iran’s presidential election in June. But Iran is
not taking a time out, and in any event whoever is elected Iran’s next president
is unlikely to alter in the slightest Ayatollah Khamenei’s commitment to
completing the project.
Moreover, Tehran can conclude from US and
European responses to other crises in the region that its current strategy is
working just fine. On Syria, Obama said in August 2011 that Bashar Assad must
go, and this month declared that any use of chemical weapons would constitute
crossing a red line. But Assad, heavily supported by Iran, is still in power,
and his regime has probably already used chemical weapons against the Syrian
Iran sees the European Union dithering on designating Hezbollah,
the Lebanon-based global terrorist organization created and supported by Iran, a
terrorist entity, even though both Bulgaria and Cyprus have implicated it in
terrorist activities on European soil.
Also, two of the UN Security
Council permanent members, China and Russia, do not fully agree with the US on
how to stop Iran’s nuclear quest. China is still a major trading partner for
Iran, importing oil that is boycotted by the EU. Russia erected the first and
only Iranian nuclear plant, in Bushehr. For these two world powers, continuing
to talk with Iran is the only option.
Iran derives no inspiration from
Kazakhstan’s example. On the contrary, it remains committed to defiance, finding
loopholes in the sanctions, exploiting divisions in the international community,
capitalizing on its current position as chair of the 120-member-state
Non-Aligned Movement, and progressing steadily on a nuclear program that one day
may well produce an explosive device that threatens the world.
writer is the American Jewish Committee’s director of media relations.