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US-Iran talks: Exploring possibilities

The United States increasingly finds a military confrontation with the Islamic Republic of Iran a difficult proposition. With the change of regime in Iran, Washington finds an alternate means to engage Iran in a political dialogue and potentially trap it later. At the same time, Iran finds it convenient to end its isolation by resuming talks with P-6 and enhance its influence. Thus, the signals of peace talks sent to each other are part of a recasting of the rules of engagement.


The United States is well aware that a military response to the threat from Iran would not be a zero-sum game and could cause adverse ripple effects across the Middle-Eastern region and important sea lanes of communications responsible for energy security and global trade.  

Both US and Iran have a history of antagonism since 1979. However, Iran defied any pressure that can halt or stop its nuclear activities. Iran’s former president, M Ahmedinijad was probably testing the patience of the US and Israel.

His adamant approach in pursuit of his country’s nuclear program increasingly made the already volatile situation quite uncertain, as both sides were almost heading for a military confrontation.

Therefore, with the change of rhetoric from Iran as Rouhani and his advisors following a more moderate approach to deal with the ongoing issue, there is significant reason to believe that Iran is genuine about talks.

This gives the US enough confidence to shed the military option and instead focus on its plan to engage with Iran through dialogue.

While the US has been pleasantly surprised with Iran’s moderate approach, it is well aware that this initiative can work better in its favor.

The best way for the US to get Iran for returning to talks, if not stop its nuclear ambitions, was to impose sanctions so that the international isolation and economic desperation would leave Iran with no choice. This would also give the US significant bargaining space, which it could later use to trap Iran.

Due to sanctions, oil sales from Iran, which account for 80 per cent of the government’s revenue, have been cut in half. Iran’s foreign exchange reserves which amounted to almost US $100 billion have shrunk and are stuck in escrow accounts overseas.

Thus, Rouhani’s olive branch to the US paves the way to end its international isolation as he needs his country to move on and focus on development by improving economic situation.

If Iran manages to engage with the US constructively, not only it will put an end to its dire economic situation, it will also give Iran space to spread its influence.

Iran can raise its profile only with significant economic power and engagement with international players. In addition, its perceived enemy, Israel, will have to find a new strategy, which is precisely what Iran wants.

On the other hand, the US will require Iran’s help in the post-2014 pullout from Afghanistan. Besides, the US needs Iran’s cooperation in Syria and a moderate Iran for the success of American led Israel-Palestine talks.

Yet, Iran and US have often joined hands covertly in many operations. However, much will depend on how far Iran plans to compromise its position.

Although Rouhani has given enough reasons for the West to believe that Iran means to put a peaceful end to this ongoing stand-off, often by angering heavy-weights back home, Iran remains firm on its right to nuclear energy.

Rouhani has vigorously defended his country’s right to pursue peaceful nuclear energy, but at the same time, he has also pledged greater transparency to address unanswered questions about Iran's program.

Therefore, currently, both Iran and US are locked in a sort of gamble. The two sides have reached a tacit agreement on the outcome of negotiations but not on the sequence of events.

The problem that therefore arises is that the two are potentially gambling their way to an enduring long term agreement on the contentious issues of Iran’s right to nuclear energy.
All eyes will be on the upcoming talks between P5+1 members of the UNSC and Iran, scheduled for next month.

While the entire process will be its own diplomatic spectacle, the starting point is that P5+1 members of the UNSC, namely Britain, China, France, Russia, US and Germany want Iran to stop enrichment of Uranium to 20 per cent, ship out some stockpiles and shutter facilities where enrichment has been done, in return for which international sanctions will be relaxed on Iran’s petrochemicals and gold.

However, Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu is against lifting sanctions on Iran, which he believes, should be linked to achieving the goal of completely dismantling Iran’s nuclear enrichment capability.

In addition, the progress of the talks could further be obscured by certain issues. Firstly, Iran and the US fundamentally distrust each other. So any agreement will be purely for business.

Secondly, Iranians will not give up its nuclear dream, at least, after coming this far, in developing industrial capabilities for it. Therefore, what Iran will be willing to compromise over its nuclear capabilities will at no cost be enough for US or Israel.
Lastly, although both presidents face considerable opposition back home for being willing to grant concessions to the other side, at the same time, both are in a hurry. Iran is worried that time is running out, while the US has to revive its image in the Middle-East.