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Analysis | What to Make of Moscow?

by FARIDEH FARHI

23 Jun 2012 23:06Comments
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Farideh Farhi is an independent scholar and affiliate graduate faculty at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa.
[ analysis ] Analyses of the Moscow talk results have been quite varied. For some, the agreement to meet again in two weeks but only at the expert level suggested an attempt to continue the process away from the spotlight in the hope that a more limited agreement on Iran's 20 percent enriched uranium would eventually serve as a confidence building measure for other steps. For others, it was just a way of covering up what was an abject failure to close the gap between adamantly maintained positions. For yet another set of observers, the agreement reflected a conscious effort on the part of all parties involved to give the appearance of talking -- talking that will somehow be stretched until after the U.S. presidential election, when presumably the American negotiators will be less vulnerable to the charge of appeasement.

To be sure, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, did try to sell the idea of an expert-level meeting as a victory for Iran. Iran had called for such meetings before Moscow, he said, but the Western powers had not been forthcoming, instead insisting that broader issues needed to be settled before technical ones. In all likelihood, however, the Russians were the ones who convinced everyone that the appearance of outright failure was good no one. The Iranians ultimately agreed because they really have no better option at this point but to test the hypothesis that an Obama win may allow for some sort of postelection softening in the American stance.

But given the inflexible line taken in Moscow by the P5+1, which essentially asked Iran to do most of the conceding before any consideration of sanctions relief, the utility of talks may become an increasingly hard sell in Iran. Already, the Baztab-e Emrooz website, run by Foad Sadeghi, a close observer of the nuclear negotiations, has challenged the wisdom of talking while being sanctioned. It also implicitly questioned the potential for flexibility after the U.S. election by arguing that the talks are essentially a setup for further sanctions and not a process through which Iran's right to enrichment will eventually be acknowledged.

Baztab doesn't offer a solution for Iran's dilemma -- beyond ending the talks -- but wants the Iranian leadership to face the reality that for the United States prolonging negotiations, while keeping sanctions against Iran in place, may be an end in itself with the aim of undermining Iran's economic infrastructure and political standing in the region. Former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, often identified as relatively open to compromise on nuclear issues, also expressed his frustration with the talks by criticizing the Western powers as "dishonest" and "not interested in interaction." According to Rafsanjani, Iran's Western interlocutors showed in Moscow that "they are after creating opportunity for their future objectives through bullying."

The reality is that Iran is faced with the difficult choice of continuing the talks in the hope that there will be more flexibility in allowing it to declare some sort of victory later, even while the softening of oil prices reduces its leverage. Undoubtedly, domestic pressure to suspend talks will mount if it becomes evident that a shift in the American position on enrichment or sanctions is unlikely to materialize. Iran will also attempt to increase its leverage by further advancing its nuclear program.

But at this point, a wait-and-see attitude is likely to prevail at least until after the expert-level meeting. In the words of an editorial in Jam-e Jam daily, this meeting will give the Iranians "a basis for a correct judgment" regarding what happened in Moscow.

Iran's agreement to begin talks with the P5+1 occurred in the light of the convergence of views within the country's fraught political environment regarding the utility of talks. Hardliners argued that talks were useful now since advances in Iran's nuclear technology were bound to convince the United States to come to terms with the reality of its enrichment program. The more centrist players like Rafsanjani argued for talks based on the premise that America's foreign policy has changed and is more open to "interaction" with Iran. So far, the Moscow talks have proven both wings of Iran's foreign policy establishment wrong.

Copyright © 2012 Tehran Bureau

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