Iran’s meeting with six world powers on Saturday is seen as a last chance before possible runaway escalation in the crisis over Tehran’s alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons. As ominous as that sounds, the two sides are going into the encounter in Istanbul neither in a harsh mood of confrontation nor desperately insisting that an agreement must be struck. For their own reasons, each side wants to give diplomacy a chance at this point, to start a process rather than to force a quick fix.
Iran, its oil sales slipping under tough international sanctions, may or may not be considering trying to cut a deal on its nuclear program. The six powers, meanwhile, are wary of Iran’s willingness for serious talks and are themselves split by longstanding differences between the United States and Russia about how tough to be with the Islamic Republic.
And so, the decade-old showdown over Iran’s alleged pursuit of the bomb continues to unfold in slow motion, even if Iran’s atomic progress, Israel’s threats to stop this with an attack, and a harsh U.S.-led sanctions regime aimed at cutting Iran’s oil sales and crippling its economy make the current days feel like an endgame.
The last talks, in January 2011, also in Istanbul, ended with Iran imposing conditions—that all sanctions against it be lifted and that its right to enrich uranium be unquestioned—that left the so-called P5 plus 1 of Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia, and the United States unwilling to continue discussion. With diplomacy in a vacuum and Iran building a second enrichment site that could be invulnerable to an airstrike, talk of war grew. President Barack Obama brought diplomacy back when he met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington last month and said “loose talk” should stop and that there was still a “window” for negotiations.
Now Istanbul will be tried again.
As it heads into the talks, Iran is promising to cap its uranium enrichment at 20 percent, a level the United States says it won’t accept because it is too far along to making the raw material for a weapon.Michael Adler is a scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center and is writing a book on Iran’s nuclear diplomacy, which he has covered for most of this decade.Continue reading