The second diplomatic deadline has now passed and once again there is no agreement. The United States government continues to insist that a nuclear deal is possible and almost appears desperate to get one. The nations of France, China, Germany, Russia and the United Kingdom along with the United States are attempting to delay what many analysts predict is inevitable. That is that Iran will become the second nuclear power in the region, after Israel. The only way to prevent an Iranian nuclear breakout at this point, is a declaration of war or an invasion.
The negotiations have stalled on the limits that will be placed on the centrifuges that permit enrichment of uranium and the pace of removing sanctions. The Iranians are insisting that all of the international sanctions be removed once an agreement is reached.
While the American Secretary of State John Kerry is trying to establish specific limits on the nuclear program, he is aware that the Iranians are not his only opponent. He is attempting to head off the American Congress which is moving towards additional sanctions on the regime when they return to Washington in mid April, unless the country abandons its nuclear ambitions.
The impasse with Iran and the growing violence in the Middle East, is resulting in having investors flee the region in ever greater numbers. The uncertainty and insecurity of the area, does not lend itself well for future investment. This will greatly add to the misery of the nations involved and will lead to even greater instability, as a generation of young people will grow up in an increasingly violent society with little or no economic opportunity. These individuals will now be much more receptive to extremist groups, who will promise a different path rather then unemployment and despair.
As Iran sits at the negotiating table the wars that are being funded by them continue to spread. The latest example is the present civil war in Yemen. The Iranian backed Houthi movement has been consolidating control over the country over the last 6 months as they close in on the last stronghold of Aden. This finally prompted Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States to begin an aerial campaign against the insurgents.
The Iranian support for Assad in Syria continues, with no end to the civil war possible at the present time. In addition to the government of Assad, there are the rebels in opposition of various factions and of course ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) also know as ISIL controlling a large swath of the country.
The growing influence of the Iranians in the area of Iraq that is not under control of ISIS or the Kurds is another concern. It is no coincidence that the present battle for Tikrit a city north of Baghdad, is being directed by Iranians commanders. Under such circumstances, it is unlikely that the government of Iraq will be able to resist the growing influence of the Iranians.
Continued Iranian support for the group Hezbollah presently based in Lebanon, also complicates matters in the region. As the terrorist group gathers strength for another attack on Israel, the threat of an even wider war in the region is an ongoing concern. The Iranians are also in support for Hamas, a Palestinian group also bent on the destruction of the Israelis state.
The Iranians continue to support various factions and terrorist groups throughout the region in the hope to fomenting civil war and revolution. This destabilizes the present order even further to the benefit of Iran which is emerging as the most powerful nation in the Middle East. As one government after another falls to violence and disorder, it forces a Western withdrawal from the area allowing the Iranians the opportunity to fill the power vacuum.
The final deadline for a deal is June 30th, but it all comes down to the willingness of the Iranians to give up possessing atomic weapons in the near future with full capability allowed in a decade. The government in Iran is fully aware that the Obama Administration is quite enamored in setting deadlines for domestic reasons, so they continue to insist on additional concessions when an arbitrary time frame approaches. In the end, the Americans were forced to abandon the political strategy of making the end of March a time for a preliminary agreement.
It was always going to be difficult. The United States and Iran have not had normal diplomatic relations since the founding of the Revolution and the taking of the American hostages in 1979. The United States and the world is demanding that the Iranians abandon something that will greatly enhance their power and prestige not only in the Middle East, but on the world stage. The theocracy in Iran has made a bargain with the people in their own country. It has committed itself to a promised return to a great power status, that had been previously achieved in the past.
Unfortunately for the Americans and the other Western powers the rhetoric has not softened within Iran either. Only recently the supreme leader of Iran Ali Khamenei, in power since 1989, replied to a chanting crowd that of course death to America was the accepted and stated policy. A top Iranian general also made public this year that the continued existence of Israel was not negotiable. The country would need to be destroyed at the first opportunity.
This type of bombastic speech on the part of the Iranians makes a nuclear deal not only more difficult for Western negotiators who have to sell the agreement to their own political constituencies, but it makes it almost impossible for the Iranians themselves to agree to anything. Thus the diplomats sent by Iran are reluctant to sign anything, that lays out specifics on what needs to be given up or put in cold storage, for at least the time being. It might make little economic sense and gain them little in the actual development of a nuclear device, but it pertains to an issue of national pride and sovereignty. The opposing side on the other hand, wants quantifiable amounts identified, because that is the only way to verify that an agreement is actually being honored.
Ali Khamenei has also insisted that some parts of the Iranian nuclear program are not negotiable. Two in particular are that Iran ultimately must be permitted to produce nuclear fuel in the amount 10 times what is being produced today, and that no nuclear facilities will actually be closed, but may be re-purposed for the time being.
What adds to the difficulty in the negotiations is that even on points that supposedly were settled, the Iranians will suddenly change course once again. A prime example was the issue of moving stockpiles of nuclear fuel to Russia, as a temporary move so the Iranians would not have to actually give up ownership. Many diplomats involved in the process had assumed that this was already agreed to, when the Iranian government suddenly reversed their willingness for concession on that point.
For the Americans negotiators to be successful they need to return home with an agreement that buys time in the face of an urgent nuclear threat. It therefore would prevent an immediate return to more stringent sanctions and the growing possibility of war between the United States and Iran. At best an understanding will only prevent Iran from having enough nuclear fuel to produce a bomb in under a year. It is hoped that this would provide enough time for renewed diplomatic pressure, even more punishing sanctions, or if need be an international coalition for war if Iran breaks the protocol.
For the Iranians to feel successful they need to know that they will continue to have the right to develop nuclear energy and ultimately atomic weapons as well. For them it is a sovereignty issue and a matter of not losing face. They also do not intend to allow the Americans and other nations to come back, with further demands down the road. Responding to outside pressure would eventually undermine the legitimacy of the present government of Iran.
The final complication will be verification regardless of the final deal struck. The only way the agreement will have any meaning, is if there is a way to see that the Iranians are keeping up to their end of the bargain. The responsibility for that will most likely fall to the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency). The general director of the agency (Yukiya Amano) has already stated that Iran is not providing needed access or pertinent information on their nuclear program. How this will change once a accord is signed is an issue that cannot be ignored. Otherwise, the signatures on the signed document become merely an artifact for history and another example of a failed diplomacy.