Expectations For the Moscow Talks

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Expectations For the Moscow Talks

On June 18, the next round of negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 will begin in Moscow.  Expectations for a breakthrough agreement at the meeting are low. However, as a former Pentagon official put it, “we must avoid letting the perfect become the enemy of the possible.” Security officials in the U.S. and Israel continue to stress that diplomacy is the preferred track, that the process will take time and that we have time on our side. The difference between the political and economic clock pressuring Iran and the technical clock on Iran’s capabilities benefits the U.S. and international partners.

Low expectations heading into talks, though diplomatic dialogue remains vital. Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, explains, “The top priority must continue to be–as the P5+1 insists–that Iran halts its accumulation of 20 percent-enriched uranium (which is above normal fuel-grade and closer to weapons grade) in exchange for fuel assemblies for its Tehran Research Reactor.”  Colin Kahl, who recently left the Pentagon as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East, writes with Matthew Irvine and Melissa Dalton, “Diplomacy should aim to roll back Iran’s nuclear progress as far as possible, but we must avoid letting the perfect become the enemy of the possible.” [Daryl Kimball, 5/25/12.  Colin Kahl, Matthew Irvine, and Melissa Dalton, 6/7/12]

Diplomacy is the way forward, not a box to check on the way to war.  Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey said earlier this year, “A conflict with Iran would be really destabilizing, and I’m not just talking from the security perspective. It would be economically destabilizing.” However, some conservatives, such as Romney advisor John Bolton have rooted for failure in diplomatic efforts and urged moves toward a military option.  But security thinkers stress the high costs of a military strike. Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan recently told the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg that, “In case of an attack, political pressure on the regime will disappear. If Israel will attack, there is no doubt in my mind that this will also provide them with the justification to go ahead and move quickly to nuclear weapons.”

Kahl and his coauthors write in Foreign Policy, “The potential costs of an attack would be high. Iran would likely retaliate, using ballistic missiles, proxies, and terrorists to attack Israeli (and perhaps U.S.) targets, possibly leading to a wider war in the Levant. Attacks by Iranian-backed Shiite militants against U.S. diplomats in Iraq, or a surge in lethal assistance to insurgents fighting NATO troops in Afghanistan, could escalate U.S.-Iranian tensions. Miscalculation and confrontation with the U.S. Navy in the Persian Gulf or the Strait of Hormuz could send oil prices skyrocketing. And even in the absence of such escalation, a preventive military strike could rattle markets and push oil prices higher at a fragile time for the global economy. By contrast, the potential benefits of an attack are uncertain. Iran’s nuclear program is advanced, dispersed, redundant, and hardened.” [Martin Dempsey via National Journal, 1/26/12. Meir Dagan via the Atlantic, 6/13/12. Colin Kahl, Matthew Irvine, and Melissa Dalton, 6/7/12]

Time is working against the Iranian regime. Last week Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta told 60 Minutes, “The consensus is that, if they decided to do it, it would probably take them about a year to be able to produce a bomb and then possibly another one to two years in order to put it on a deliverable vehicle of some sort in order to deliver that weapon.” The Center for American Progress explains in a recent issue brief, “even though halting Iran’s nuclear weapon ambitions is an urgent priority, there is time for a disciplined approach and a serious and determined effort to resolve the situation diplomatically… The key factor in these calculations is Iran’s capacity to produce the highly enriched uranium necessary for a bomb. The most common estimates by U.S. and Israeli government officials, as well as outside groups such as the nonpartisan Institute for Science and International Security, are that Iran could develop a crude but workable nuclear explosive device within a year. Importantly, though, in recent congressional testimony Director of National Intelligence James Clapper indicated that this timeframe was ‘technically feasible but not likely’ given the complexities involved in developing nuclear weapons.  Moreover, the Institute for Science and International Security notes Iran is having a hard time acquiring the materials to further advance its nuclear activities due to international sanctions, forcing the program to develop second-rate domestic substitutes that could slow the program even more… Given these estimates, the United States and the international community have time to continue negotiations with Iran and let sanctions pressure the Tehran regime to come clean about its program.”

In another report from CAP, former Deputy Secretary of Defense Rudy deLeon, Brian Katulis and Peter Juul describe the increasing pressure and ticking clock that the Iranian regime faces: “U.S. sanctions targeting Iran’s Central Bank will go into effect on June 28, while an EU embargo on Iranian oil will start on July 1. The imminent imposition of this harsh set of international economic restrictions on Iran’s central financial institution and major export serves to heighten the pressure on the Iranian regime to strike a deal with the P5+1 addressing international concerns about its nuclear program… Tehran’s clock to avoid sanctions is now moving faster than its nuclear program is progressing, giving the P5+1 greater negotiating leverage as it seeks to bring international accountability to Iran’s nuclear efforts.” [Leon Panetta, 6/10/12. CAP, 5/29/12. Rudy deLeon, Brian Katulis and Peter Juul, 5/25/12]


What We’re Reading

The Egyptian Supreme constitutional court invalidated the Egyptian parliament.

Bahrain ruled in the cases that involved multiple doctors’ alleged role in unrest in the country, acquitting nine and convicting eleven.

A suicide bomber targeted a Shiite shrine in the Syrian capital.

The  Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) wrangled over whether to cut production and prop up crude oil prices.

The Israeli state comptroller criticized Benjamin Netanyahu over the Gaza flotilla raids.

Thousands of refugees are fleeing clashes in Burma.

China denied claims that a Chinese company sold missile transport vehicles to North Korea.

Spain’s borrowing costs rose to a new high.

The man who has called himself the mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks may be seeking to wear military-style clothing at his upcoming war crimes trial in Guantanamo.

Protests continued over electoral reforms in Togo.


Commentary of the Day

Dominic Tierney explores the overblown fear of the United Nations in American politics.

Nicholas Kristof believes there is growing discontent and fear, as well as tentative goodwill toward America, among everyday Iranians.

Juliette Kayyem points to European woes as a case study of how helping countries’ financial health is key to helping their citizens stay put.



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