Progress on Iran

February 17, 2014 - 5:06:45 am
Talks between Iran and the world powers are entering more crucial stages. The next round scheduled to start tomorrow will embark on the great task of transforming their interim nuclear deal into a long-term accord satisfying all sides and putting an end to war talk. Such a result, though difficult, is achievable. Having travelled thus far in the quest for a solution to the nuclear crisis, Tehran and the West will find it more difficult to go in reverse mode than finding a permanent solution.

The optimism is high on both sides. After a decade of failure and rising tensions, US President Barack Obama has put the chances of agreement at 50:50 while Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif has predicted difficult discussions. Both leaders were just practical and being savvy about the prospects of the talks, though could be expecting much more.

The scheduled three-day meeting in Vienna between Iran and the US, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany -- the so-called P5+1 -- is the first in what is expected to be a series of tricky encounters in the coming months. It comes after foreign ministers struck a breakthrough deal in Geneva on November 24 that saw Iran agree to curb for six months some of its nuclear activities in exchange for minor relief from painful sanctions. The talks also follow talks in Geneva to find a solution to the Syrian crisis, which has stalled due to the intransigence of the Syrian side.

Under the comprehensive deal now being sought, which both sides aim to conclude by November, the powers will want Iran to scale back its nuclear activities permanently. These might include closing the Fordo facility, slashing the number of centrifuges enriching uranium, cutting its stockpile of fissile material and altering a new reactor being built at Arak. Leaders in our region and some hardliners in the West are highly sceptical about Tehran’s intentions to dismantle its nuclear capabilities. For the same reason, the forthcoming agreement must set out in clear terms what Iran is supposed to do, and close all loopholes. There should not be a second option to Iran than fully comply with the terms and its compliance must be independently verified.

Iranian President Hassan Rowhani is known as a moderate whose election last year has helped thaw relations with the West. He retains the backing of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for now. He must use his influence with the supreme leader for a complete dismantling of nuclear facilities. There is no alternative to a permanent deal. Having tasted the fruits of a partial deal, a going back to the full sanction days will be suicidal for the government of Rowhani.