Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks in Tehran.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Iranian patience is paying off.
Counting down to the end of extended negotiations for a comprehensive agreement on Iran’s nuclear program, its rulers are exhibiting, behind a veneer of cooperation, resolute obstructionism. They are masters in the international diplomacy souk.
The IAEA still cannot “provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities,” concluded the UN nuclear watchdog’s latest quarterly report on Iran. Repeated IAEA appeals to Teheran over the years to reveal all the details of its nuclear program, to be so transparent as to convince the US and other world powers to dismiss long-held, valid suspicions of a secretive effort to achieve nuclear-weapons capacity, continue to be ignored.
No sustainable deal with Iran can be achieved without IAEA satisfaction that its concerns have been substantively addressed, says the US, which also asserts that no deal is better than a bad deal. But what if the long, elusive, consistently-blocked-by-Iran permanent deal is unattainable? For over a decade, the P5+1 – Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States – have engaged in on-again, off-again talks with Iran.
An apparent breakthrough in November 2013 led to a slight easing of sanctions on Iran in exchange for its pledge to slow down certain aspects of the nuclear program that had been steadily advancing toward crossing the threshold to produce weapons.
By July, at the end of the first six-month extension of the talks, little progress had been made, and all seven nations at the table agreed to continue trying for a permanent agreement. Talks this week between the P5+1 group and Iran in New York, on the sidelines of the annual UN General Assembly session, will aim at resolving all outstanding issues by the November 24 deadline.
Iran actually does not have to budge, since dramatic developments across the Middle East, in Europe and elsewhere are diverting focus away from the urgency of stopping Teheran’s steady march to nuclear capability.
From Syria and Iraq, to Libya, to Nigeria, rampaging jihadist groups are brutally seizing control, terrorizing and murdering, and causing the disintegration of individual countries, which, in turn, further threatens their neighbors and lands beyond. In comparison, Iran stands as one of the most stable countries in the region, able to credibly assert that it faces threats from Sunni jihadists.
It might even be tempting to see Iran as a potential ally of the US effort to counter and destroy the Islamic State (IS). But Iran is no innocent.
Following Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution, the country sought to export and spread its deeply religious, anti-Western and anti-Israel ideology.
It spawned Hezbollah in the wake of the 1982 Israel-PLO war in Lebanon, has collaborated with the terrorist organization in attacks worldwide and partnered in defending the Assad regime during more than three years of civil war in Syria.
Iran has avidly supported Hamas, proving that the Shi’ite-Sunni divide can be bridged when the common goal is Israel’s destruction. In March, Israeli forces seized an Iranian ship filled with arms heading for Gaza.
In the aftermath of the summer Gaza war, Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar, who spent much of the conflict in hiding in Gaza, vowed to bring his group’s terrorism to the West Bank. It seems the Iranians are willing to help. Khaled Abu Toameh, writing for the Gatestone Institute, noted that a senior commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps announced that Teheran had plans to “arm Palestinians in the West Bank” to destroy Israel. Such an admission of Hamas-Iranian collusion comes on top of the recent revelation of a Hamas plot to overthrow Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, thus extending the terror group’s influence in the West Bank.
Iran also may benefit from a number of other distractions that the P5+1 face both individually and collectively.
The US and EU members are at loggerheads with Russia over its aggressive actions in Ukraine and threats to act similarly towards other countries once part of the Soviet Union. Great Britain is confronting the possible loss of Scotland in an independence vote. And the US, engaging multiple, simultaneous international crises, has its attention focused on the midterm congressional elections in November.
Iran’s nuclear program needs to remain a clear and top priority. Teheran must understand that the UN, IAEA, US, Europeans, and, yes, Russia and China, are determined to still stand united in preventing Iran from developing nuclear weaponry. It may be difficult today to imagine a fate worse than IS, but an Iran with nuclear- weapons capacity would be the gravest threat imaginable to regional and global security.The writer is the American Jewish Committee’s director of media relations.