Representatives from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Iran will meet in Tehran on Wednesday of this week to discuss inspections and verification arrangements. The meeting follows several previous unsuccessful attempts between the two sides to agree on a path forward on how to address the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program.
The failure of previous meetings, most particularly over access to the Parchin military complex, leaves IAEA chief Yukiya Amano skeptical ahead of this week’s meeting. Satellite footage appears to have shown over the course of the year that a clean-up of the area has taken place, leading some to conclude that Iran is trying to sanitize the site before any visit. Iranian officials and some analysts have said, though, that any such effort would be fruitless, as it is impossible to clean a site completely of radioactive contaminants, if they had been there.
It had also been anticipated that Iran might meet with the E3+3 (P5+1) this week to resume the political discussions over the nuclear program, last held in June in Moscow and since in suspension pending the result of the US Presidential elections. The meeting of the IAEA and Iran may have been more fruitful if scheduled after the E3+3 meeting, but speculation now points to this meeting happening at the end of January. This will allow time for President Obama’s inauguration on January 21st and the Israeli elections on January 22nd, the results of which may play heavily into the negotiating strategies of both sides. Plus, the second term of the Obama Administration is still undergoing transition - with new U.S. high-ranking decision-makers at State and Defense to be confirmed within the coming weeks. It may not be the moment to be negotiating when key nominations will very soon be facing public confirmations on the Hill, and Iran-related issues feature high on legislators’ agenda. However, it will not be long before the political focus in Tehran will turn towards behind-the-scenes manoeuvring ahead of the Iranian presidential election in June.
The key mainstream assumption amongst U.S. and allied leaders is that pressure needs to remain, sanctions tightened further, and the threat of force remain on the table, as the only promise for eventually changing minds in Tehran; but it remains unclear what kind of impact the sanctions and threats are having on the leaders’ calculations at the moment. It is now undeniable that the sanctions are making life in Iran more difficult, but for now the continued punishment without any credible relief in sight may just as likely increase the government’s unity and resolve to continue the nuclear program as it is to make them cave.
These are the personal views of the author.