Optimistic talk on Iran deal misleading

Former Obama arms control adviser Robert Einhorn says Islamic Republic’s supreme leader unlikely to allow flexibility on key issues required to reach successful conclusion of talks

(photo credit: BROOKINGS.EDU)
VIENNA – A deal with Iran over its nuclear program is far from a foregone conclusion despite positive comments from both sides following the recent extension of talks between Tehran and the P5+1 global powers, according to a former arms control adviser to US President Barack Obama.
“I was struck by how upbeat public comments by some of the key players were, but some of the optimistic talk may be giving a misleading impression. In reality a deal is not close at hand,” Robert Einhorn, a former senior arms control adviser to Obama, told a forum of the Vienna Center for Disarmament and Non-Proliferation last week.
Significant gaps still existed between the sides on the major issues following the November 24 decision to extend talks for a further seven months, and any resolution would depend on whether Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gave President Hassan Rouhani and his negotiating team sufficient flexibility, said Einhorn, currently a senior fellow with the Arms Control and Non-Proliferation Initiative at the Brookings Institution.
Among the sticking points Einhorn noted were the amount of uranium Iran would be allowed to enrich; the number of centrifuges it would be allowed to keep; the period of limitations on Tehran’s nuclear program; a timetable for removal of sanctions; and the issue of Tehran coming clean over past possible military dimensions of the program.
With regard to past possible military dimensions, Einhorn questioned whether the International Atomic Energy Agency could reach a conclusion about compliance without understanding Iran’s past activities.
“We need to know activities that occurred in the past are no longer occurring and will not occur in the future,” he said.
As for the issue of enrichment, Einhorn said the US has shown flexibility in the talks, recognizing the fact that Iran would retain some enrichment capabilities, but, he added, so far Tehran “has not been prepared to show comparable flexibility.”
Speculating on why Iran has refused to compromise on enrichment, Einhorn said Tehran may have felt that Washington would accept a deal on its terms, given that in the Islamic Republic’s view it needed help to combat the rise of Islamic State; that Obama would want to conclude a deal before the Republicans took over Congress; that its economy is improving; and that it was confident that even in the absence of an agreement it could persuade countries to ease sanctions.
Einhorn said that in the period immediately ahead, the spotlight would be on Tehran and Washington, but that while Obama was likely to try and persuade Congress that enough progress has been made without the need for further sanctions, which could derail the talks, he doubted that Rouhani would be able to give his negotiating team that flexibility required to succeed in the negotiations.
The ball was now firmly in Iran’s court, said Einhorn.“Success or failure will be determined in Tehran,” he said. “If the supreme leader throws his support behind those who favor engagement with the West, there can be deal.”
However, he added, “it is doubtful that he will.”