A team of IAEA inspectors is back in Iran this week, just after being there three weeks ago. Because of the rising tensions in the region, this is a critical visit and the outcome and written report to follow will shape international opinions of Iran’s nuclear program and its intentions.
However, the outcome looks bleak as it has been reported that the inspectors will not actually be visiting the intended facilities, located just outside of Tehran.
In the past few months, there has been an increase in pressure placed upon Iran and a build-up of tension in the region. The United States and the European Union placed more economic sanctions on Iran, and now Iran has ceased oil exports to the United Kingdom and France. Last week, Iran made a highly publicized announcement of the status of their nuclear program, claiming major advancements including installing a new generation of Iranian-made centrifuges in the uranium enrichment facility in Natanz and inserting a domestically-made nuclear fuel rod into a research reactor. Iran also announced their intentions to begin production of yellowcake, used for making enriched uranium.
It seems as though many of the major players in this ‘game’ are getting anxious, and require direction on their next move. In an attempt to clarify the US position, the US Senate revealed last Thursday, a new resolution on Iran. In effect, the resolution stresses the importance of preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons capability. It supports continued economic and diplomatic pressure being placed upon Iran, and results in putting more pressure on the Obama Administration to consider military action.
In an interview with CNN, US General Michael Dempsey explained that focus should be kept on placing economic pressure on Iran and any military action against the Islamic Republic would be premature. This statement was aimed at Israel, as speculation is growing on whether or not Israel has intentions to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. An attack by Israel on Iranian facilities would set Iran’s nuclear program back, but it would also lead to the eruption of more violence throughout the entire region and there would be a high potential for outside military action from the US, NATO, and Russia. Iran announced on Monday that it was beginning new military exercises to ward off military attacks, specifically from Israel and Western countries.
We will have to watch closely as to how the diplomacy plays out in the next couple of weeks. Last week, Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili sent a letter to EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton, requesting to resume talks with the P5+1 as soon as possible to discuss developments in Iran’s nuclear program. In a press conference with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Ashton said this letter was a positive indicator of the potential for discussions. If both sides can get to the same negotiating table, they need to find ways of leveraging their current positions and offering exits to this stalemate in order to prevent a war. There are ways of both sides getting what they really want out of this, if they can escape the trap of seeing this as a zero-sum game, and making assumptions about the malign intent of the other. Trust cannot be created out of thin air, but then neither can it grow without both sides being willing to take small steps towards understanding.
These are the personal views of the author.