Another Round of Poker: Internal and external pressures may yet make Tehran willing to negotiate a peaceful end to this crisis
Tensions are rising again over Iran’s nuclear program. But mounting internal and external pressures may yet make Tehran willing to negotiate a peaceful end to this crisis.
“Talks are going slowly but Iran’s centrifuges are moving quickly,” said one US Congressman recently of the frustrating summer of high-stakes talks on Iran’s nuclear program. While meetings in Istanbul and Baghdad in April and May left P5+1 negotiators (the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany) with some hope that progress could be made toward limiting any military aspects of Tehran’s nuclear program, a third round of talks in Moscow in June proved so disappointing that no further high-level meetings were immediately scheduled.
As talks have proved fruitless, the pressure on all sides to bring this conflict to some sort of conclusion has continued to mount. A new round of crippling US and EU sanctions hit Iran in July, further squeezing the Iranian economy and prompting Tehran to renew its threats to block the Strait of Hormuz, and test new anti-ship missiles in anticipation of a conflict in the Persian Gulf. The United States has countered by sending more warships into the Gulf region, including a second aircraft carrier, the USS John C. Stennis. In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned this week that “time to resolve this issue peacefully is running out,” again raising the possibility of a unilateral Israeli strike on Iranian nuclear sites. The Iranian nuclear crisis, after a few quiet months, appears back in full swing.
However, as this game of nuclear poker threatens to enter a dangerous new phase, policy makers in Washington and Brussels should keep several things in mind. First, the sanctions in this latest round are “the toughest Iran has ever faced,” according to US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta. They represent a hard-worked, unprecedented collaboration by the United States and European Union to cripple Iran’s oil exports, which comprise roughly 80 percent of the country’s foreign reserves.