by Amir Taheri
‘An important reversal of America’s position!” is how Tehran’s government-mouthpiece daily Kayhan described the outcome of the latest talks between Iran and the 5+1 group of nations on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.
The 5+1 team (the permanent members of the United Nations’ Security Council plus Germany) was led by European Union foreign-affairs spokeswoman Catherine Ashton. High Council of National Security Secretary Saeed Jalili led the Iranian team.
The talks, held in Istanbul on Saturday, supposedly tried to persuade Tehran to comply with UN Security Council resolutions it has ignored for years — the key demand of which is that Iran stop uranium enrichment and open its nuclear sites to regular International Atomic Energy Agency inspection.
Yet both sides said the Istanbul session dealt only with “confidence-building” measures, including another round of talks in Baghdad on May 23.
The way Tehran sees it, Istanbul showed that the 5+1 group has dropped the UN resolutions’ demand for ending uranium enrichment.
“Up to now their position was that uranium enrichment was not allowed in any form,” Kayhan said in an editorial yesterday. “Now, it is clear that enrichment between 3.5 and 5 percent is acceptable. Their hope is that Iran would decide not to enrich at higher levels.”
Kayhan adds that Iran is enriching up to 20 percent and could “go higher if needed.” The 40 kilos it has enriched up to 20 percent would have to be enriched up to 90 percent to provide nuclear-warhead material.
Iranian Atomic Energy Agency chief Fereydoun Davani said Iran has installed a new generation of centrifuges to do just that if and when the leadership decides to make the final move toward a nuclear arsenal. For now, however, Iran “officially” doesn’t want to build nuclear weapons.
Both Iranian “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei and President Obama have several reasons for being happy about Istanbul.
Both want Iran’s nukes — the No. 1 foreign-policy issue in the US presidential election — to be pushed to the sidelines.
That would let Tehran buy time to dramatically increase its stockpile of higher-grade enriched uranium while completing five sites built deep in mountains to be less vulnerable to airstrikes.
Iran also needs some 18 months to finish the heavy-water plant at Arak, west of Tehran, that would provide it with an alternative route to a bomb, with plutonium rather than enriched uranium.
Meanwhile, creating the impression that a peaceful solution is within reach would make it harder, if not impossible, for Israel to take military action against Iran’s nuclear sites, something that neither Obama nor Khamenei wants.
On the eve of the Istanbul talks, the Obama administration sent a signal to Tehran by leaking information about an Israeli “air-force facility” in Azerbaijan, close to Iran’s borders.
Earlier, Khamenei had signaled Washington by praising Obama’s March speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee as containing “good and positive elements.” He also assured Obama that, if Israel attacked, Iran wouldn’t take action against America. “We shall respond to any attack by the Zionist regime in a proportionate way,” he said on March 21.
Obama has often called for “unconditional talks,” in effect setting aside the UN resolutions, a longtime Tehran demand.
Obama wants something — anything — that would let him claim a diplomatic victory on an issue that has plagued his predecessors since 1989.
He also knows that if Israel attacks Iran before the US presidential election, he’d have to side with the Jewish state or risk losing part of his electorate in such battleground states as Florida and Ohio. After the election, he’d no longer feel obliged to back Israel in action against Iran.
Iranian leaders think that if Obama is re-elected, the threat of Israeli attack would fizzle out.
Tehran is also pleased that Obama has leaned on Arab allies to drop plans for arming Bashar al-Assad’s opponents. The Syrian despot is Iran’s main Arab client, and his fall would hurt Khamenei’s regime.
Washington welcomed the outcome of Istanbul as “positive.” But positive for whom? The main beneficiary seems to be Tehran, although it may also help Obama’s re-election.
Ashton has described the outcome as “constructive.” But what is the 5+1 bloc constructing? The answer may well be a house of cards.Amir Taheri
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