Rolling the dice: The Iran Nuclear Talks Deadline

The Iran Nuclear Talks have reached a critical juncture. Top diplomats from the United States, Iran, Britain, China, Germany and Russia are set to meet in Switzerland in order to define the contours of a deal that world powers hope will thwart any Iranian drive to develop nuclear weapons.

The genesis of Iran’s interest in nuclear technology can be traced back to the 1950’s, when the U.S. and Iran signed a civil nuclear co-operation agreement, as part of the U.S. Atoms for Peace program. Iran’s first nuclear reactor, the U.S. supplied five-megawatt Tehran Research Reactor, became fully operational in 1967. Iran then ratified the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1968, and by the 1970’s, plans had been made to construct up to 20 nuclear power stations across the country, with U.S. support and backing. However, the development of this nuclear baseline capability came to a sudden halt in 1979 with the start of the Iranian Revolution.

“Much of Iran’s nuclear talent fled the country in the wake of the Revolution. This loss, compounded by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s opposition to nuclear technology, resulted in the near disintegration of Iran’s nuclear program post-1979. . . . However, in 1984 Khomeini expressed a renewed Iranian interest in nuclear power, seeking the assistance of international partners to complete [construction of the Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant].”

Henceforth, Iran refocused on nuclear technology acquisition, and accelerated its nuclear program, mainly through the expansion of uranium enrichment related activities. U.S. intelligence agencies have long suspected Iran of using its nuclear power program as a cover for weapons development. In January, 1984, the U.S. Department of State added Iran to its list of state sponsors of terrorism, effectively imposing sweeping sanctions on Tehran. As a result, a longstanding geopolitical game has ensued, with the U.S. effectively trying to curtail any possibility of Iran’s nuclear energy project from becoming a nuclear weapons program.

The current nuclear talks could cap “more than a decade of tensions over Iran’s atomic ambitions and a year and a half of intense negotiations from New York to Vienna to Oman, is then meant to be rounded out with complex technical annexes by June 30.”

However, in order for this to happen, three hurdles must be surpassed. First, a deal must be struck between American negotiators, their European counterparts, and the Iranians before the March 31st deadline. Second, the Obama Administration will face the increasingly difficult task of trying to deal with Congress; only Congress can permanently remove U.S. sanctions on Iran. Lastly, Iranian negotiators, military and the Ayatollah will also have to reach an accord. A task some say is nearly impossible.

At a most basic level, Iran seeks trading limits on its nuclear program for an easing of economic sanctions. However, the Republican controlled Congress is staunchly opposed to easing these sanctions, insisting that they will only be suspended, not lifted, in order to enable the US to quickly put them back in place if Tehran violates the deal.

The nuclear talks seem to be reaching an impasse. However, if this dilemma is ever to be resolved, now is the time. If escalation ensues, conflict and war in the Middle East loom over the horizon. Can these nations put aside their differences? Can the Iranians trust America? Can America trust Iran? At some point, as they say, the dice will have to be rolled.

Photo by: U.S. Department of State

 

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