US-Iran talks likely to start in mid-June
This week the EastWest Institue published a joint US-Russian report on the development of Iran’s nuclear capability. In short the report concluded that Iran is still approximately six years away from having the capability to attach a nuclear warhead to a long range missile that could reach Israel.
One of the reasons this report is noteworthy is because one of the leading supporters of this study was James Jones who is now currently a security adviser for the Obama administration and has direct access to the President.
There is currently a public battle over the setting of priorities between Obama and Netanyahu. Obama places an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal in the number one spot, while Netanyahu places the perceived Iranian threat at the top.
Obama is scheduled to announce plans for the peace process in a speech in Cairo on June 4th. This will lay the groundwork for both the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and talks with Tehran. The talks with Iran are likely to start shortly after Iran holds their elections on June 12th.
Exactly what will be offered by the US in the talks with Iran is not yet entirely clear, but there are several ideas that have been floating around Washington for months. At the top of the list of things the US could potentially offer is a guarantee that there will be no efforts on the part of the US for regime change in Tehran. The US could also promise to allow Iran to have a civilian nuclear energy capability that would be overseen by the US or the international community. Another promise is likely to be a US investment in several aspects of the Iranian economy, with the oil infrastructure being at the top of that list of investments.
President Obama laid out the rough timeline for the talks with Iran, saying that they should have a good indication whether or not the talks have been successful by years end.
The Israelis however see Iran as a more present danger. Brigadier General Michael Herzog, the chief of staff to Israel’s defense minister said publicly that in Israel they believe that Iran could have a first device by the end of next year. This discrepancy in time lines are leading to the obvious differences in approach.
There is a wide array of threats the US will use in these upcoming talks with Iran. At this moment the US will be articulating threats in the form of international sanctions. Talk of economic sanctions will take place with Israel looming in the background talking of military options.
The economic sanctions proposed by President Obama have been to cut off credit guarantees to European companies that do business with Iran and cutting off the supply of refined petroleum products like gasoline.
In a move that shows that the Obama administrations believes that a Israeli unilateral strike is indeed a possibility, the White House sent CIA Director Leon Panetta to Israel to tell Israeli leaders how dangerous a unilateral strike would be.
Despite this visit Prime Minister Netanyahu has refused to take the option of a unilateral strike by Israel against Iran off of the table.
Amidst all of this talk, the leadership in Tehran still says that its nuclear program is solely intended for civilian non-military use. And the fact also remains that Iran is being fully cooperative with all that is asked in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Israel or the US has yet to produce hard evidence that Iran has a current nuclear weapons program. Iran says any additions to their military power are to serve as a deterrent to Israel threats.
In addition to not having the political will in the US for a military strike of any kind on Iran, the Obama administration also likely sees Iran as a potentially great ally in the current mess in Afghanistan.
A recent report from the Rand Corporation says essentially that Iran not a great military threat, and that the sometimes over the top rhetoric is more about securing the survival of their country more than pointing any rage out at other countries. The same report also stated that the links between Hezbollah and Hamas are there, but the idea that either would act on Iran’s behalf for reasons that would only benefit Iran is not true.
This information can be spun in two different ways. In Israel they are saying that the window to hit Iran is now open but once they have nuclear capability that window will be closed. While in Washington the same information is being used to at the very least delay action on Iran.
It will be interesting to see how Israel plays a role in the talks between Washington and Tehran. A scenario that we could see play out is to have Washington and Tehran come to an agreement that does not satisfy Israel. One thing is for certain, nobody knows what kind of world we live in after Iran is struck, the survival of millions and millions, perhaps billions of people could hinge on their retaliation or lack there of.