The P5+1 talks being held tomorrow follow two previous rounds, one in Almaty, Kazakhstan from 26-27 February and a meeting of experts in Istanbul, Turkey on 17-18 March. Though the outcomes are vague and highly tentative currently, they set the scene for further discussions tomorrow. The talks are likely to be baby-steps towards a larger goal by Iran and the P5+1 to seek mutually beneficial outcomes. The likelihood of this occurring is speculative and any concessions made by either side are unlikely to be breakthroughs.
The latest round of talks to be held tomorrow marks another important development in Iran’s foreign policy. Discussions held this year between the P5+1 and Iran have been widely noted as being more realistic than previous rounds. This stems from statements by Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi that Tehran is willing to address Western concerns regarding Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons programme. Salehi has stated, though, that Iran like any sovereign country is legally entitled to develop civilian and scientific nuclear facilities.
The talks tomorrow are likely to be a continuation of the 26-27 February talks discussing in detail propositions suggested during the last round. These include a concession by Western powers on its sanctions programme in exchange for Iran suspending uranium enrichment to a fissile concentration of 20 per cent. This concession deviates significantly from previous calls by the US and Western powers that demanded complete suspension of all nuclear programmes and facilities. Additionally, it shows a degree of realism in Washington regarding Iranian domestic concerns.
Another possible outcome is the provision of alternative energy sources for Iran. The Bushehr nuclear reactor has cost Tehran an estimated US$11 billion while only providing 2 per cent of Iran’s electrical needs. It may be proposed by Washington, that there are alternatives to nuclear power, such as solar power, which hypothetically could make Iran completely energy self-sufficient. The costs of acquiring nuclear power for its relative gains have made it an incredibly expensive solution. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has speculated that the costs associated with Iran’s nuclear programme, including international sanctions, have cost the Iranian government an estimated US$100+ billion in oil revenue and foreign investment. While it is widely understood that Iran’s determination to acquire nuclear energy may be related to the acquisition of nuclear weapons, there are alternatives.
One of the critical matters that may be addressed by tomorrow’s meeting in Almaty is the rationale behind Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons programme. This likely stems from a perceived need by Tehran to be able to deter potential opponents, because it is highly unlikely that Iran could become a nuclear power based on its limited natural reserves of uranium. In negotiating with Tehran, Washington will need to understand Iran’s security concerns. It is a country that is surrounded by equally strong powers and the world’s sole superpower on its borders. This environment has established a requirement in Iran for the country to be independent and military sufficient to deter external aggression.
A key matter that has not been discussed up to now, but may be tomorrow is the situation in Syria. Javier Solana, former NATO secretary-general has said that the situation in Syria is inextricably tied to that of Iran. Tehran is likely to be less willing to dispose of its suspected nuclear weapons programme if its periphery becomes compromised. This may help in explaining US unwillingness to explicitly offer assistance to the Syrian opposition, despite calls from the Western world to do so. Strong US intervention in the Syrian Civil Crisis may alienate Russia and antagonise Moscow against Washington in the P5+1 meeting.
Almaty may be the centre of the world’s attention tomorrow, but precedent cautions against expecting much. Compromises may be made be either party as earlier explained, but the situation is complex and deeply engrained in the political psyche of Washington and Tehran. Washington’s new tactic of diplomacy may take root by negotiating compromise rather than demanding submission. If the talks are successful, it will be one in which all parties involved will benefit and save face. The real benefiters of diplomacy will be the Iranian public, who through progressive sanctions, have seen a strong decline in their quality of life and access to basic materials including medicine.
Indian Ocean Research Programme