With less than a month to the much-anticipated meeting in Baghdad between Iran and the “P5+1″ nations, indications are that the two sides are seriously contemplating successful talks that could yield a mutually acceptable breakthrough and pave the way to a gradual resolution of the Iran nuclear crisis.
The “P5+1″, also known as the “Iran Six” – the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia) plus Germany – have been involved in negotiations with Iran for several years over its nuclear program, which in some quarters is said to be designed towards building nuclear weapons, something Tehran steadfastly denies.
In Moscow, a clue was given by Iran’s ambassador, Reza Sajjadi, who said that Tehran was now considering a Russian plan to halt
any expansion of its nuclear program and thus avoid the European threat to impose an oil embargo effective this July.
Sajjadi was also reported as saying that a deal may be in the making for Iran to agree to an Additional Protocol of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty – to which Iran is a signatory – that would allow UN inspectors to make “immediate, impromptu visits to Iran’s nuclear sites”.
Meanwhile, European negotiators are busy discussing with their Iranian counterparts the nature of an agenda and framework for discussion in Baghdad, hoping to reach “very concrete results”, to paraphrase Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy chief, who has sounded upbeat ever since the Istanbul meeting earlier this month that saw a resumption of talks after a lengthy hiatus.
None of this optimism, however, is shared by Israel, whose Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has criticized the Istanbul talks as “giving freebees to Iran” by agreeing to hold more talks in Iraq, a charge denied by US President Barack Obama.
“The notion that somehow we’ve given something away or a ‘freebie’ would indicate Iran has gotten something. In fact, they’ve got some of the toughest sanctions that they’re going to be facing coming up in just a few months if they don’t take advantage of these talks,” the president was reported as saying.
Undeterred, Netanyahu has escalated his rhetoric by insisting that Iran must halt all of its enrichment activities, and not just the 20% enrichment, as US officials had requested in Istanbul. Netanyahu said this on Tuesday during a prime time interview with CNN, where he once again accused Iranian leaders of being ideological zealots rather than being “rational”, as even his own generals have admitted.
Netanyahu has expressed concern that the five weeks between the rounds of talks would give Iran more time to continue enriching uranium without restrictions. Israel has proposed pre-emptive military strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities, something the US has sought to prevent.
This was followed by a blistering verbal volley against Tehran by Israel’s ambassador to US, Michael Oren, who used the Holocaust Memorial Day to accuse Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei, of being the Adolf Hitler of the Middle East bent on the “destruction of six million Jews”, ie causing a second Holocaust.
Previously, this label had been reserved for Iran’s President Mahmud Ahmadinejad and this is the first time Israel has escalated its rhetoric by attaching it to Iran’s highest authority, who has issued a religious verdict, fatwa, against nuclear weapons.
Clearly, Israel’s intention is to force the White House to adopt a more hawkish stance at the Baghdad meeting and to make the military threat even more credible so that Tehran will give into its demands.
The fact that Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate presidential hopeful, is exploiting the issue to accuse Obama of not doing enough to assist Israel is a major plus for Israel’s strategy that, in turn, puts Obama in the awkward position of how to reach a viable compromise with Iran without alienating his powerful Jewish supporters and thus risk his bid for a second term.
According to a Tehran University political science professor who spoke to the author on the condition of anonymity, Israel’s comparison of Iran with Nazis is “pure rubbish” and there is no better refutation than the fact that Iran’s Jewish minority freely practice their religion and have seats in the parliament (majlis).
“I am not optimistic that Obama can stand up to the Jewish lobby on Iran, even though this means blocking needed US-Iran dialogue on regional security issues in Baghdad,” the professor said.
Iraq’s Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki was in Tehran last week for consultations on the brewing crisis in Kurdistan and Syria and the Baghdad meeting could serve as a forum for mediation between the US and Iran, who have a broad range of topics to discuss above and beyond the nuclear issue, including Afghanistan.
Thus, whereas in Istanbul Iran’s negotiators refused to hold bilateral talks with the US representatives, on the sidelines in Baghdad they may be inclined to do so.
A net gain for Baghdad and its self-marketing as a hub of regional diplomacy after hosting an Arab League summit recently, the coming meeting is also a net loss for Turkey, accused of meddling in Iraq’s Kurdish affairs by Baghdad, and a personal affront to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who told the media in early April that the “Iran Six” nations would not go to Baghdad. Clearly he was wrong.
On the nuclear issue, Tehran has been improving its relations with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s nuclear watchdog, and also hinting at some compromise at 20% enrichment, that is, signaling that it will not produce more than what is necessary, and already Iran has enough fuel for 10 years for its medical reactor.
Israel’s spoiler behavior illustrates that it views the Iran nuclear issue as a functional crisis that serves its interests, to depict itself as a victim of future Iranian aggression, while the problems in the Occupied Territories where Israel is accused of aggression are almost forgotten by the world community.