By John Ubaldi
Contributor, In Homeland Security
With all the news coverage on the resignation of Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, and the situation in Ferguson, Missouri, missing was the reporting of Iran nuclear talks being extended another seven months.
For the past couple of years, “P5+1” nations in reference to the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council (the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain), plus Germany have been negotiating with Iran to curb its nuclear ambitions.
On Monday, negotiations in dealing with Iran’s nuclear program have been extended seven months (next June), but all sides have agreed to extend the discussions, with the hope that a political agreement can be reached by March; then with a full agreement by the July 1 deadline.
In a recent statement, Secretary of State John Kerry, claimed “progress was made on some of the most vexing challenges that we face.”
“Today we are closer to a deal that would make the entire world…safer and more secure,” Kerry said. “Is it possible that in the end we just won’t arrive at a workable agreement? Absolutely. We are certainly not going to sit at the negotiating table for ever. But given how far we have come…this is certainly not the time to get up and walk away.”
It has been 12 years since Iran’s nuclear ambitions have been first revealed, and ever since that time there have been failed attempts to negotiate a lasting agreement satisfying the international community that Iran is not building a nuclear weapon.
Last year when it seemed military action by Israel was forthcoming, an interim deal was reached in Geneva which froze some of Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for $7 billion in economic sanction relief – to include no new potential sanctions imposed.
Iran has insisted that it has the right, under international law, to develop nuclear power for peaceful use, but many in the international community doubt this assertion by Iran and only have past bellicose rhetoric to go by.
With the extension, Iran is allowed to continue accessing $700 million a month from frozen assets during this interim period.
The Wall Street Journal reported that the latest confirmation of the obvious comes to us courtesy of a Nov. 17 report from David Albright and his team at the scrupulously nonpartisan Institute for Science and International Security. The ISIS study, based on findings from the International Atomic Energy Agency, concluded that Iran was stonewalling U.N. inspectors on the military dimensions of its program. It noted that Tehran had tested a model for an advanced centrifuge, in violation of the 2013 interim agreement. And it cited Iran for trying to conceal evidence of nuclear-weapons development at a military facility called Parchin.
“By failing to address the IAEA’s concerns, Iran is complicating, and even threatening, the achievement of a long-term nuclear deal,” the report notes dryly.
Administration officials and Kerry had remarked that Iran was living up to its obligation under the interim agreement of November 2013, but many national security experts have wondered why not keep the specter of sanctions in the event Iran violates any agreement.
Next year could become problematic for any diplomatic efforts as a new Congress takes office in January, one with a Republican controlled Senate that already has bipartisan support for sanctions.
Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ), the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, has already signaled that he supports a bid to pass new sanctions on Iran.
“The cycle of negotiations, followed by an extension, coupled with sanctions relief for Iran has not succeeded,” Menendez said.
“I continue to believe that the two-track approach of diplomacy and economic pressure that brought Iran to the negotiating table is also the best path forward to achieve a breakthrough,” he said. “I intend to work with my Senate colleagues in a bipartisan manner in the coming weeks to ensure that Iran comprehends that we will not ever permit it to become a threshold nuclear state.”
Menendez was one of the lead sponsors of a bill to push through an enhanced sanctions bill but was stymied by Democratic leaders in the Senate. This could change with a Republican majority in the Senate.
The enhanced sanctions placed on Iran had a crippling effect on its economy. This was the main driver for getting Iran to the negotiating table, but many national security experts have held removing or taking the threat of renewed sanctions off the table has only embolden Iran.
Iran accomplished what it needed in the short term by alleviating parts of the sanctions, gaining hard currency for its beleaguered economy, and finally, the continued progress on its nuclear program.
The question now is will the strategy by the U.S. work? How will the allies in the region react to this approach considering all concerned parties have a contentious relationship with the U.S. administration and have been left out of the negotiations?
If the U.S. approach fails, are we going to have to face the inevitability of a nuclear armed Iran, and if this is the case, how will the region respond? Will other nations in the region try and acquire a nuclear weapon to counter Iran? Will Israel attack Iran to prevent them from having a nuclear device?
A lot of unknowns.
About the Author: John Ubaldi is President of Ubaldi Reports which provides credible, political content, addressing domestic and global issues written by military veterans with expertise on domestic and international issues. He has a Master’s in National Security Studies from American Military University with a concentration in Middle Eastern Studies and a Bachelor’s in Government from California State University, Sacramento.
Read more of John’s articles at The Ubaldi Reports.