US AND IRANIAN negotiators pose yesterday in Geneva before another discussion of Iran’s nuclear program.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In a perfect world, in view of the dramatic events in Yemen, the US and its EU allies would have suspended the nuclear talks with Iran or at least presented a tougher position.
The fall of Yemen’s major cities into the hands of the Houti (Shi’ite) rebels – directed, supported, and equipped by Iran – is not unrelated to the nuclear talks.
Iran strives to have hegemony in the Middle East. It already either partially dominates or fully controls Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and now has made inroads in Yemen on the Red Sea. No wonder that Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates for the first time yesterday translated their concerns into action and carried out air strikes on Houti positions.
If this new and most crucial round of nuclear talks in Switzerland results in a framework agreement among the word powers (US, Russia, China, UK, France and Germany) and Iran, it will further consolidate Iran’s hegemony. No wonder the Arab world, led by Saudi Arabia, now shares with Israel the same interests and fears of the deal in the making.
They claim that the pending deal is a “bad deal” that will further enhance Iran as a nuclear threshold state and recognize its right to keep enriching uranium, despite its long history of deceptions and violations of its international obligations to the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The negotiation focuses on reaching by the end of this month a framework agreement that would state the major principles of the final deal. They include the reduction of Iran’s operational centrifuges for uranium enrichment from 10,000 to roughly 6,000, intrusive inspection of all its nuclear sites for 10 years, limitations of its enriched uranium stockpiles, and some other important points.
If a deal is reached, this leads to further talks – technical by nature – which have to be concluded in the format of a comprehensive agreement by the end of June 2015.
Thus, it will replace the interim agreement reached nearly a year and half ago between the two sides.
Still – and despite the long way both sides have walked so far – reaching an agreement is not a sure thing. There are still major differences which have to be overcome. Iran, as declared by its Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, demands that international sanctions be lifted once the agreement is signed. This is most probably supported by Russia and China, but opposed by the EU with France leading the charge.
Another major hurdle is Iran’s insistence on continuing to research and develop, though not to operate, new versions of centrifuges which spin faster and are more efficient.
But even if these two major obstacles are settled, the agreement will most probably leave loopholes and unresolved issues. These include the demands by the IAEA that Iran show transparency in regard to its past activities in the area of weaponization and allow IAEA inspectors to visit suspected sites like Parchin and interview key nuclear scientists; especially Muhsein Fakirzhada, considered to be the future “father” of Iran’s nuclear bomb. One more important issue is the future of the heavily fortified Fordow uranium enrichment facility.
On Wednesday the Associated Press reported that the US was ready to allow Fordow to be partially operational. If true it would be a setback for the efforts to curtail Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
Resolving these issues will enable the world to have a better understanding of how advanced Iran is in its efforts to master the knowledge of building a nuclear bomb.
So far Iran has rejected the demands.
The US argues that if a deal is clinched this month and finally sealed in June, Iran will be pushed back up to a year from the ability to assemble a bomb in case it breaches the agreement and tries to dash to be a nuclear weapons state.
But Israeli and some American experts disagree. They tend to estimate that making all the concessions will enable the Islamic Republic to “break out” and rush to a bomb within a few months.
With or without a bomb, the dramatic developments in Yemen and the soft and insufficient response of the US and the EU pave the way for Iran to become a regional superpower.