After a full year of tortuous negotiations, the P5+1 group and Iran have now extended the nuclear talks for another six months. The move comes after foreign ministers from the US, Britain, France, Russia, China, Germany and Iran failed this week to conclude a final deal in Vienna on the long-running nuclear dispute.
Despite having secured an interim deal last November, which gave a partial lifting of international sanctions to Iran in return for Iranian self-imposed restrictions on its nuclear programme, the group of world powers could not in the end come up with a final accord on the deadline set for November 24 this week.
Media reports say that a new deadline has been scheduled for more than six months further down the road, on June 30 2015.
The delay is bound to be seen as a blow to Iranian attempts to engage with the Western powers, led by the US. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei had given Iranian diplomats a leave of absence, so to speak, to test the intentions of the American «Great Satan» by engaging in negotiations to resolve the decade-long nuclear standoff. The failure to sign off on a deal after a year of shuttle diplomacy will reinforce Iranian suspicions that the US and its Western allies are not serious about finding a solution.
The Vienna talks this week, involving US secretary of state John Kerry, came unstuck because the Western position suddenly hardened at the last hour, according to the British Guardian. Only last week, Russian officials expressed cautious optimism that a breakthrough could be attained.
However, over the weekend Western diplomats cited «complex issues» that had arisen, without specifying what those issues were exactly. French foreign minister Laurent Fabius told reporters: «In the course of the past few days, some new ideas came up. They clearly require a very detailed technical assessment because these are complex concepts».
Germany’s foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier alluded to objections from Middle Eastern parties not formally represented at the P5+1 forum. That undoubtedly refers to Israel and Saudi Arabia, both of whom are opposed to Iran as a regional power and have long insinuated – with overblown fears – that Iran is secretly trying to build a nuclear weapon.
The objections of Israel are particularly odious given that it is the only Middle Eastern state that actually has a stockpile of hundreds of nuclear weapons that have been acquired surreptitiously over many years outside of international controls under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The Americans and the French are believed to have conspired historically with Israel to acquire this de facto illegal arsenal and hence create a major instability in the region. That makes their «concerns» for nuclear security particularly untrustworthy and contemptible.
Iran is a signatory to the NPT and as such has the legal right to develop peaceful nuclear technology. Iran has repeatedly said that it has no intention of weaponising its nuclear programme, including a religious decree from its Supreme Leader forbidding such development as contrary to Islamic principles.
Countless inspections of Iranian nuclear facilities by the United Nations watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), have also found no weapons dimension to Iran’s programme. Its latest report earlier this month confirmed yet again that no nuclear material has been diverted from the civilian purposes that Iran claims its programme is for – namely energy, medical applications and scientific research.
Russia has also in recent months signed new agreements with Iran to help build more nuclear power stations in that country – in addition to the well-established Bushehr plant. Surely Russia’s involvement must be seen as a substantive guarantee of Iran’s civilian nuclear projects?
The whole Western premise against Iran is based on suspicion of nuclear weapon intent – a suspicion that is fuelled by Iran’s regional political enemies in Israel, Saudi Arabia and the other Persian Gulf sunni monarchies. Hardly reliable sources.
Commenting on the latest impasse in negotiations in Vienna and the extension of talks to June next year, the British foreign minister Philip Hammond tried his best to sound upbeat.
«I think we’re all clear that we need to take the momentum that has been generated over the last month or so and we need to keep moving with it. We can’t afford to stop now,» said Hammond.
The British foreign secretary added: «Everyone is going to have to show some flexibility to get an agreement».
The admonition of «everyone having to show flexibility» is ominous. In effect, this means the Western powers want Iran to yield more concessions on top of what it already has conceded over the past year.
Iran has self-imposed a restriction on its uranium enrichment process to a level of five per cent which is way below the threshold required for producing a nuclear weapon. It has also opened up its facilities to intrusive IAEA monitoring, including the installation of CCTV cameras.
In return for these concessions, which are not legally required under the NPT, Iran has gained paltry relief from the international sanctions that the US and its Western allies have largely been responsible for. Under the interim agreement signed last year, Iran is able to draw on some $700 million a year from billions of dollars-worth of assets that the Western powers impounded going back decades to the Iranian revolution in 1979.
The Iranian economy is still very much straitjacketed from Western embargoes on its vital oil and banking industries. Life-saving medical and pharmaceutical imports are also still banned.
In another context, but relevant to Iran, Vladimir Kozin, director at the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies, said recently that Western sanctions imposed on Russia over the Ukraine crisis should be revoked immediately and without conditions. Kozin correctly points out that Western sanctions have been unlawfully slapped on Russia on the basis of unilateral allegations and innuendo. Russia is therefore not obliged to negotiate the repeal of these restrictions. It is up to the Western powers to undo the imbroglio that they have created.
The same legal position applies to Iran, if not more so, because Iran has over the past year gone to onerous lengths well beyond the call of duty to build confidence over its nuclear rights.
Delaying the P5+1 negotiations and Western admonitions for «more flexibility» smack of just more of the same procrastination and horse-trading that is really aimed at giving the West control over Iran’s sovereign rights and development.
Western chatter about «complex issues» is but a cynical cover for justifying continuing Western hegemonic dictates and denying Iran its legitimate national rights. The only thing complex, it seems, is how the West can keep spinning this crisis beyond any rational, moral or legal justification.