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    Middle East
     Mar 21, '13

US maintains pressure on Iran
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi

If this week's meeting of Iran and the world powers known as "P5 +1" in Istanbul is any indication, we should refrain from high expectations from next month's talks in Almaty. Despite US President Barack Obama's new year (Nowruz) message to Iran that US is "ready" to make a deal with Iran, the behavior of US representatives at the Istanbul "expert-level" meeting sends an entirely different signal; Washington's unwillingness to make serious concessions for the sake of ending the Iran nuclear crisis.

According to a source in Iran who is close to the negotiation team, "there is no major sanctions relief on the other side's agenda, even if Iran complies with their demand." The latter has

focused on the suspension of Iran's 20% uranium enrichment, out-shipment of Iran's fuel rods and the (temporary) closure of the underground Fordo enrichment facility. "The feeling that has emerged from Istanbul is that the gap of expectations between the two sides is still huge and Iran is asked to give up a lot while gaining little in return," says the Tehran source on the condition of anonymity.

As a result, there is a steady erosion of the optimism that followed the February meeting in Almaty, Kazakhstan (see Iran nuclear talks reach a turning point, Asia Times Online, March 1, 2013). Iran is now preparing for a tough year ahead in light of the likely possibility that the nuclear standoff and the accompanying coercive sanctions will continue. Indeed, the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei, hinted as much in his Nowruz message that declared the new year as a year of "economic and political epic'', thus raising the level of national discourse about the stakes in the road ahead.

While acknowledging the difficulties imposed on Iran by the sanctions, and criticizing the government's shortcomings in addressing the economic issues, Khamenei also insisted in his message that the enemies had failed to cripple Iran's economy and Iran by following the path of self-reliance will continue the path of progress.

Coinciding with the tenth anniversary of Iraq's invasion by US and its allies, Khamenei, who had correctly anticipated a long quagmire in Iraq, breathed a sense of confidence that Iran's determination to mobilize for a presidential elections three months from now and sustaining the "economic resistance" will succeed no matter what the external challenges. President Mahmud Ahmadinejad echoed the same sentiment in his Nowruz message, his last as the outgoing president, whose legacy in the foreign and domestic arena is hotly debated in Iran nowadays.

Returning to Iran with a reduced sense of optimism that a deal with the powers can be struck in Almaty in early April, Iran's nuclear negotiators must weigh the pros and cons of a lengthy stalemate in case the other side does not upgrade their offers on the table.

Khamenei has already pointed at the significance of Almaty II by saying that it represents a litmus test of West's sincerity. In light of West's rather sordid trail of empty promises, half-steps, and disproportionate demands unmatched by tangible offers of sanctions relief, this is likely a test that Washington will fail, particularly since President Obama is in Israel this week, bound to be impressed by the Israeli "Iran threat" hyperbole.

Henceforth, with new anti-Iran sanctions brewing in the United States Congress, the stage is being set for a major escalation of the Iran nuclear crisis in 2013, unless reason prevails in the Western capitals and culminate in serious sanctions relief to Iran in exchange for Iran's nuclear compromises. Unfortunately, as stated above, the Istanbul meeting served as a barometer of US's lack of seriousness, and sincerity, ie, the fact that the upper hand belongs to those in US government who push for sustained stalemate, not a meaningful breakthrough.

Indeed, if this were not the case, the US representatives at the Iran talks would jump to grab the Iranian offer to stop the 20% enrichment which, according to various nuclear experts, represents two thirds of the steps necessary to get the fuel for nuclear bombs. Yet, somehow, despite sounding alarms about Iran's "nuclear capability" reflected in this enrichment level, neither the US nor any of its Western allies are showing any signs of willingness to make serious offers to neutralize this threat, and, naturally, one wonders why?

The answer falls back on the ambiguities of Western governments' negotiation postures that can be traced to their "paradoxes of preferences'', ie, on the one hand for a breakthrough and, on the other hand, for maintaining the nuclear-led pressures on Iran's post-revolutionary assertive power (see Obama's dangerous Iran nuclear gambit, Asia Times Online, March 18, 2013).

Consequently, chances are we are about to witness the evaporation a golden opportunity to settle the dispute on Iran's nuclear program and thus give the international community a sigh of relief. The self-righteous Western powers can then only blame themselves and their hidden intentions for the failure of talks and the consequent escalation of tensions that are reflected in US's insistence that "all options are on the table."

The US's tough negotiation strategy in Istanbul shows in fact that the US is intent on keeping the pressure on Iran at any cost, above all, by deleting the option of serious sanctions' offer as a part of a quid pro quo with Tehran. Some options after all have a tendency to bump off the others below the table.

Kaveh L Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New Directions in Iran's Foreign Policy (Westview Press). For further biographical details, click here. Afrasiabi is author of Reading In Iran Foreign Policy After September 11 (BookSurge Publishing , October 23, 2008) and Looking for Rights at Harvard. His latest book is UN Management Reform: Selected Articles and Interviews on United Nations CreateSpace (November 12, 2011).

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Obama's dangerous Iran nuclear gambit (Mar 18, '13)

Iran nuclear talks reach a turning point (Mar 1, '13)



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