The Iranian nuclear threat is back on the global agenda: US media are calling the nuclear talks which are set to be held in Baghdad between Tehran and the world powers the “moment of truth.”
The main question they are asking – “Will Iran take the next step?” as the headline of the New York Times editorial asks.
The newspaper claims that Iran needs to work towards a solution and start suspending all uranium enrichment activities – at a minimum, it needs to stop enriching to 20% purity, well beyond the 5% needed for civilian nuclear programs and a few steps from bomb grade.
If that should happen, the global powers are expected to offer to take the stockpile of 20% enriched uranium out of the country, fabricate it into fuel rods for Tehran’s medical research reactor and help with safety upgrades to Iran’s civilian nuclear program.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman warned that Iran was trying to deceive the West and has agreed to nuclear negotiations only to “buy more time.”
“There are no illusions as to the Iranians’ intentions regarding their military nuclear program,” Lieberman said Sunday after meeting US Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano in Jerusalem. “I do not believe the international community is under any illusions regarding Iran’s willingness to give up its nuclear program.”
On Saturday reports abounded on an agreement in the works and gestures from the west which might include a lightening of the restrictions on the purchase of airplane parts and aid for Iran’s energy industry, but they would not include a lifting of the ban on fuel exports – a sanction set to come into force in July.
Among the countries taking part in the Baghdad talks are the United States and its allies – Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said during his visit to the Czech Republic that he believes that Iran would not compromise on its nuclear plans.
Yet according to the New York Times, what the Iranians really want is an end to the sanctions, which are wreaking havoc on the economy. They may show just enough flexibility to encourage Russia and China to push to ease punishments prematurely.
Tehran has played that game many times before, while plowing ahead with its nuclear program.
The newspaper is calling for sanctions to be eased but only if Iran makes credible gestures and not significantly until it takes irreversible steps to roll back its nuclear activities. The international community must make that clear before the Iranians start making promises.
And just ahead of the Baghdad talks, the head of the UN atomic agency will visit Iran on Monday.
Yukiya Amano will leave Vienna on Sunday for talks with senior Iranian officials, including chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, the IAEA said.
He is likely to press Iran to address a major IAEA report in November alleging that until 2003, and possibly since, Tehran had a “structured program” of “activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device.”
Diplomats speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity said the fact that Amano himself was going raised hopes of a breakthrough, with one Western envoy saying Tehran “had its back against the wall.”
Another Vienna diplomat told AFP that the surprise announcement was a “hopeful” sign, while a third said they expected Amano to “conclude the negotiations on the modalities (of cooperation) and to have it formalised in a document.
Key players, Barak and Obama (Photo: White House)
Meanwhile, the Iranian issue has also been raised in the Wall Street journal. In an article named ‘Moment of Truth’ the Washington DC Bureau Chief Gerald Seib claims that “if serious diplomacy is going to take root, this month is when it will have to happen. If not, Israeli or American military action to stop Iran becomes much more likely.”
Seib claims that there are three key players in the unfolding drama. The first is US President Barack Obama. “His goal at this point is simply, in the phrase officials use, ‘to push the timeline to the right’ – that is, to slow down the Iranian march to nuclear weapons capability enough to buy time for a broader solution.
“He may soon face tough judgment calls on which Iranian moves are real, and which are sufficient.”
The second key player is Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei.
As “western officials have virtually dropped the pretense that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad really matters on nuclear decisions, and think the only voice that counts is that of the spiritual leader.
“That is why Mr. Obama in March sent Ayatollah Khamenei a back-channel message via Turkey saying the ayatollah’s recent religious declaration that possession of nuclear weapons is immoral provides the basis for negotiation.”
Finally, the surprising third key figure according to the Wall Street Journal is Israeli, but it is not Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Rather the Wall Street Journal has chosen Defense Minister Ehud Barak.
“American officials don’t hold out much hope his boss, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, will find any negotiating progress sufficient to conclude the threat has been contained and justify putting aside the option of a military strike.
“But Mr. Barak is another matter, and as deputy prime minister he would have to agree on any military move. There will be many opinions in Israel on the diplomatic dance ahead, but his matters most.”