It is unclear what effect the outcome of Sunday’s talks will have for negotiations due on Wednesday in Baghdad between Iran and representatives from six world powers on the broader issue of Tehran’s uranium enrichment, which the UN security council has demanded be suspended.
Western officials said an IAEA deal could improve the atmosphere in Baghdad, or conversely, damage prospects for those negotiations if Iran presents progress on an IAEA inspections framework as its sole concession. . . .
“If Amano’s presence in Tehran can produce something, it will play into this week’s talks in Baghdad,” a senior European diplomat said. “If Iran can indicate it is ready to respond to international concerns over its nuclear programme, that will be positive. But there will be no reward for simply turning up and the key issue for building confidence is still uranium enriched to 20% … If we are going to continue talking in good faith, there has to be something put forward by Iran.”
I remain skeptical that Iran is ready to, basically, capitulate on the enrichment question. My suspicion all along is that Iran wants to achieve “nuclear capability” which is to say: the ability to assemble nuclear weapons even if they don’t build an arsenal. Which would require 20% enriched uranium at least in order to conduct a nuclear test.
But who knows? Where does this goal rank in their priority list relative to their other goals? Could a deal that enabled them to enrich to 3.5% (which is all that would be necessary for nuclear power) and that forestalled more serious economic sanctions be spun by the regime as a diplomatic victory? Maybe the really important goal isn’t “nuclear capability” but “nuclear status” – which might be satisfied by the kind of agreement the six powers are trying to get to. I doubt it, but I don’t know enough to really have a firm opinion.
Does anyone disagree with me, though, that the Romney campaign will harshly criticize any agreement with Iran, no matter what the agreement says? Amano has taken a much tougher line than his predecessor has, but I assume Romney will ignore this and attack any agreement with the IAEA as “appeasement.” Similarly, if the six powers make progress in Baghdad, coming to some kind of preliminary agreement about the outlines of a nuclear deal, Romney will criticize that in similar terms. That would certainly be consistent with his approach to all other diplomatic initiatives of the Obama Administration, and, indeed, with his general contempt for diplomacy and international organizations.
My question is: does it matter? Will the Romney campaign’s inevitable criticism have any impact on the prospect of diplomacy’s success? My instinct is to say: no, it will have no meaningful impact, but I’m not sure. If a deal requires sending nuclear fuel to Iran in exchange for an agreement to open-ended IAEA inspections and a commitment to end enrichment beyond 3.5%, it’s easy to see how that would be demagogued as “agreeing to let Iran go nuclear.” Could the Obama Administration still sign on? Or would they have to push for an end to all enrichment, full stop, and thereby scuttle a deal?
Agreements almost always require both sides being able to claim victory in some fashion. If you start out from a position that the only acceptable agreement is one in which the other side capitulates completely, then you’re really saying that you don’t want an agreement. The Romney campaign isn’t going to say that no agreement is better than an agreement that might be on the table; they’ll assert (without evidence) that they could get a more one-sided agreement. But could they actually prevent a deal from happening?
Over to you, Daniel.