Published in Athens Views (print – no longer in circulation) on 14 November, 2014
As the November 24th deadline approaches, the possibilities for a comprehensive accord between Iran and the P5+1, which includes the UN Security Council’s five permanent members and Germany, have lessened, though all sides seem hopeful.
Last Sunday the western allies and Iran met in Oman to discuss the possibilities of a deal. Despite the intense nature of the talks that were extended for an extra day, a final deal seems even further away. Iran’s Deputy for Legal and International Affairs of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Abbas Araghchi, said “negotiations and discussions in the past few days were very useful but we are not still in a position to say that we have made progress”. State Department officials have declined to characterise the state of the talks but said they were “tough, direct and serious.” In turn, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), Hassan Rouhani reassured that the Iranian diplomatic team acts according to the best benefit of Iran’s national interests and the talks will continue at different levels until the deadline in two weeks.
Although at the moment a nuclear deal in November 24th seems impossible, all those involved have said that if needed the deadline will be extended.
What Iran is looking from the deal is the ease of western sanctions which have negatively influenced its development, while the West’s main goal is to make sure Iran does not get the bomb. One of the biggest obstacles in the agreement is Iran’s uranium enrichment capabilities as uranium could be used both for nuclear energy and as the main material for nuclear weapons. Yet Iranian officials are hopeful that they can overcome this obstacle. As Araghchi stated, right now the problem is not enrichment as a whole, as it was in the past, but the number of centrifuges.
While nuclear negotiations move forward slowly but steadily, Israel is in doubt of Iran’s intentions. An old objector of any engagement with Iran, the Israeli government is not willing to change its stance as it considers the Islamic Republic one of its main threats in the region. On Monday 10th, the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, called the Israeli PM, Benjamin Netanyahu, to inform him of the Oman talks though no details of the phone call were given to the public. In addition, Netanyahu confirm that he has sent letters to the foreign ministries of the P5+1 urging them not to rush to a deal as Iran “still seeks the destruction of Israel.”
However, though it may sounds far-fetched, it might be time for the Israeli administration to start rethinking its stance towards Iran. Israel’s recent attacks in Gaza as well as its overall negative stance in every development in Western and Middle Eastern relations is turning it to an grumpy partner which may result in its overall isolation. A positively engaged Israel, which of course begins with its stance towards Palestine, would only be in its best benefit as it will start regaining its status in the area.
Although the results of the US midterm elections will be a drawback to Barack Obama’s final two years as any foreign treaties will need to have the approval of the Congress, which is now controlled by the Republican Party. If a comprehensive nuclear accord, even after the deadline, is agreed, it will be one of Obama’s biggest foreign policy achievements.
This has put even more pressure the US administration as the nuclear deal as a whole or some of its terms might be at stake.
The geopolitical developments in the Middle East with ISIS forcefully roaming Iraq being one of the main hot issues, and the failure of the sanctions being another, Western allies have no other option than to come to a final nuclear deal. On the other hand Iran needs the West in order to fulfill its geopolitical aspirations as well as to be able to develop economically, as although the sanctions were not successful they have been a huge burden to Iran’s development.
More talks are scheduled to take place on November 18th in Geneva, just a few days before the expiration of the deadline.