Talks on Iran remain deadlocked

August 23, 2012


As Israel and Iran entered this summer of confrontation over Tehran’s nuclear program, the Iranians were also conducting talks with the United States and other leading nations to seek a diplomatic alternative to war. Since then, the rumors of an impending Israeli military strike have grown almost daily, but whatever happened to the negotiations?

The answer is that the “P5+1” talks have been in recess during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, but contact is expected to resume soon between the top negotiators. Talking with Iranian and American experts, I don’t hear any hint of a breakthrough that would ease the war fever, although some useful new ideas have been floated.

The diplomatic track has been frustrating to U.S. officials, so far. But it remains important because the military alternative is so fraught with dangers — not least for Israel and its long-term goal of preventing the Iranians from having nuclear weapons. An Israeli military strike might set the Iranian program back several years. But it would probably shatter the international coalition against Iran, galvanize support for the mullahs at home and in the region — and thus might make Iran’s eventual acquisition of a bomb even more likely.

Because of such risks, many leaders of Israel’s national-security establishment, past and present, appear to oppose Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s consideration of a military strike. Despite this internal Israeli split, Republican candidate Mitt Romney has strongly endorsed Netanyahu and chided President Obama for taking an independent U.S. position, saying at a campaign rally Monday: “The president throwing Bibi Netanyahu under the bus was totally unacceptable. Him negotiating for Israel, our friend, totally unacceptable, in my view.”

Here’s the situation in the negotiations Romney evidently dislikes: By the end of August, Catherine Ashton, the European diplomat who is chief negotiator for the P5+1, will likely talk by phone about next steps with Saeed Jalili, the representative of Iran’s supreme leader. The possibilities include another technical meeting of experts or deputy negotiators, or a full, top-level negotiating session.

The P5+1 nations (the United States, Britain, France, China, Russia plus Germany) are still discussing their bargaining position. The consultations quickened last week with a trip to Beijing, Moscow and London by Wendy Sherman, the undersecretary of state who is the top U.S. negotiator. The six countries agreed to continue working together despite some disagreements about tactics: “At the end of the day, we will proceed in unity,” said a senior administration official.

There remains a “significant gap between the P5+1 and Iran,” according to the U.S. official. The Iranians officially have offered only to suspend enrichment of uranium to the 20 percent level, in exchange for lifting sanctions. This position is a non-starter for the U.S. and its negotiating partners.

Unofficially, Iranians have signaled that they would be ready to export their stockpile of 20 percent uranium and cap future enrichment at 5 percent. This comes closer to meeting U.S. concerns, but it still leaves Iran with a big stockpile of about 6,000 kilograms of low-enriched uranium that could fuel a breakout. It’s this ability to “dash” toward a bomb that most worries Israel.

An interesting bridging proposal comes from Seyed Hossein Mousavian, a former Iranian negotiator who’s now a visiting fellow at Princeton. He told me this week that in addition to capping enrichment at 5 percent, Iran might agree to a “zero stockpile” of this low-enriched fuel. A joint committee with the P5+1 would assess Iran’s domestic needs, and any enriched uranium would either be converted immediately to the needed fuel rods or panels, or it would be exported.

In exchange, Mousavian argues, the P5+1 would recognize Iran’s right to enrich uranium and would gradually lift sanctions.

This intriguing proposal lacks official Iranian support, but it would address Israel’s biggest concern and would surely interest American officials. Mousavian also notes Iran’s willingness to allow much wider inspections by the IAEA into what are known as “possible military dimensions” of the Iranian nuclear program. This transparency proposal would allow the IAEA to monitor any possible breakout, but U.S. officials caution that if the Iranians decided to go for a bomb they could simply expel the IAEA inspectors and make the dash.

Here’s a final thought, based on the all-too-real possibility that negotiations will remain deadlocked and Israel will decide to take unilateral military action. In the resulting fog of war, there will be a need for reliable communications in the Gulf and a hotline with Tehran. Establishing these communications links is an urgent priority, as the rumors of war continue.

— David Ignatius is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group.     


jhawkinsf 3 years, 5 months ago

Both sides are gonna do what they're gonna do. Iran blows up Jewish Community Centers and tourist buses. Israel takes out nuclear facilities. It's gonna happen.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years, 5 months ago

"Israel takes out nuclear facilities."

And kills civilians by the thousands in direct invasions and massive bombing campaigns, and keeps millions of people imprisoned in apartheid-like gulags.

Just sayin.

jhawkinsf 3 years, 5 months ago

I'm certain we can both make long, long lists of wrongs done. Wrongs that span the centuries. You can choose some atrocity from column "A" while I choose one from column "B".

Is that where you want this discussion to go?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years, 5 months ago

I found your initial post extremely unbalanced. The leadership of Iran is violent and autocratic. Israel's is pretty much the same, although they do a better job of faking democratic ideals.

jhawkinsf 3 years, 5 months ago

My initial post was unbalanced? How would you have worded it to reflect both Israel's past history of taking out nuclear facilities as well as Iran's past history of attacking Jewish interests?

jaywalker 3 years, 5 months ago

His hypocrisy knows no bounds, jhawk.

jaywalker 3 years, 5 months ago

"Iran blows up Jewish Community Centers and tourist buses."

Typical. Ignore that part of of the statement, go directly to "anti-Israel" stance. And "millions" in "apartheid like gulags" is rhetoric that warms the hearts of your counterparts, Limbaugh, Hannity, and Beck. Kudos.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years, 5 months ago

Oh, lookie, we get two uncritical supporters of Israel for the price of one!!

jaywalker 3 years, 5 months ago

Couldn't have responded sillier. Both jhawk and myself have been critical of Israel on multiple occasions, notably in dialogues with you. Channeling porch person today?

jhawkinsf 3 years, 5 months ago

Bozo, look at my post above. The one where I mentioned atrocities on both sides, (column "A" and column "B"). I think the problem is, Bozo, that you're reading into others' posts what you want to be there, not necessarily what is there.

Never, never, never have I said babies should be killed and for you to say that is outrageous. It's a flat out lie, Bozo. You are a liar.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years, 5 months ago

"Never, never, never have I said babies should be killed"

But you never, never complain much about the thousands of babies they have killed.

To the contrary, you usually characterize it as the eggs that had to be cracked to make whatever deadly omelet they were cooking up at the time.

jhawkinsf 3 years, 5 months ago

I have frequently said that the loss of civilian life is tragic. So for you to say that I have never complained much about thousands of babies killed is another lie.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years, 5 months ago

No, it's not a lie-- I'm just not affected by your self-delusion.

jhawkinsf 3 years, 5 months ago

Delusion is when I say something and then you say I didn't say it. What I said is what I said. It's in black and white, right there for all to see. The delusion is that you don't want to see, so you say it's not there. But it is.

jaywalker 3 years, 5 months ago

That's pathetic, bozo. Stooping to new lows.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years, 5 months ago

Hey, when involved in a discussion with you, stooping low is a prerequisite.

Alex Parker 3 years, 5 months ago

And that's where it's going to stop. Please do not use these forums for one-on-one bickering sessions.

jhawkinsf 3 years, 5 months ago

Syria is being targeted by Syria. They are in the middle of a civil war. The UN, no friend of Israel, has labeled it as such. And this despite their efforts to end the conflict. The rest of the Arab world has labeled it as such, despite their effort to end the conflict.

The use of "international bankers" has been used as a code for "Jews" by some. For the record, are you using that term in that way? Would you repudiate it's usage as a code? And if you're not using "international bankers" as a code for "Jews", then which international bankers exactly are you referring to?

jhawkinsf 3 years, 5 months ago

If one expresses an pattern of opinions or beliefs that consistently point in a certain direction, then political correctness might just have to take a back seat. That was what I was trying to determine. If one blames international bankers (read: Jews) for a civil war in an Arab country, and, one holds Israel (read: Jews) to standards different than they hold others to, and one consistently points to specific events meant to put Israel (read: Jews) in a bad light, while ignoring other events that would put (Jews) in a different light, if such a pattern exists, then political correctness has nothing to do with the conversation.

I asked if you would repudiate the stereotype of international banker as a code for Jew. I'll be generous in saying you skirted around the question. I mentioned that Syria (a topic you brought up), is recognized as an internal conflict by the UN and by the Arab community. I questioned why you would drag international bankers (read: Jews) into that conflict. Is it for the purpose to blame them for something that everyone else agree is not of their making? And if so, why?

I think your comments have opened areas of discussion where these questions are legitimate. Perhaps you could more clearly state your positions.

booyalab 3 years, 5 months ago

Political friends and enemies are something an elected official inherits. Like with his domestic policies, Obama's foreign policies largely involve ignoring all of the history and precedents that happened up until the time of his election.

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