Text size:

  • Small
  • Normal
  • Large

Bring Tehran in from the cold in nuclear talks

Let Tehran have its pretence of "negotiating from strength" on its nuclear programme, as long as it leads to a deal that benefits all parties involved.

The mood music from Almaty over the past few days hit a decidedly high note. Iran called the two-day talks in Kazakhstan a "turning point" in the dispute over its nuclear programme, while the United States was a bit more cautious, but did back a plan offering some relief on sanctions. After months of gloomy prognostications that talks would stall ahead of Iranian elections in June, the pleasant tone was an unexpected surprise.

Experience has shown, however, that one step forward in these negotiations is often followed by two steps back.

Iran has an unfortunate record of inconsistency in this dispute over the past decade. In 2009, for example, a proposal to swap uranium fuel stock - and thus address a key concern about Iran's domestic enrichment, which might be adapted to a weapons programme - broke down after Iranian negotiators returned home.

It is often domestic politics, rather than the niceties of international negotiations, that steer Iran's behaviour. While Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has the whip hand in foreign policy, Tehran's tumultuous political rivalries make coherent policy difficult, and expose any sign of weakness as a career liability.

Iran's politicians have to be seen to be negotiating from a position of strength. This is, of course, a fiction. Sanctions are biting deeply into the economy, with an expected 40 per cent drop in oil revenues this year. In the worse-case scenario, Iran could face the overwhelming military might of the United States and its allies. Washington and other members of the P5+1 negotiating team have room to appear generous.

The deal proposed in Almaty would ease restrictions on Iran's energy exports, in return for Iran's commitment to cease enriching uranium to 20 per cent purity, which is used in healthcare but is also more easily converted into material that can be used in a weapon. If the two sides could strike that deal it would be an important, although reversible, first step.

Tehran still insists that its nuclear programme is solely for civilian purposes, to which it has a right. In truth, there is conclusive evidence that scientists are working towards a "break out" capability, at which point Iran could assemble a nuclear weapon in a relatively short time.

Sanctions were designed to prevent that weapon from ever being built, not to punish the Iranian people or achieve regime change. At the next round of talks, negotiators might want to offer further carrots to their Iranian counterparts. Let Tehran have its pretence of "negotiating from strength" to reach a deal that benefits all parties involved.

Back to the top

More articles

Editor's Picks

 Ali Benflis, opposition leader and main rival to Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika speaks to the press after casting his vote in the presidential elections at a polling station in Algiers on. Former prime minister Benflis ran against Bouteflika in 2004 but lost heavily, charging the vote was rigged 10 years ago and has said fraud will be his ‘main adversary’ during the election. Patrick Baz / AFP Photo

Best photography from around the world, April 17

The National View's photo editors pick the best images of the day from around the world.

 Above, the private pool of Ocean Heights' five-bedroom penthouse flat. Courtesy Christie’s International Real Estate

In pictures: Penthouse flat is height of Dubai luxury living

A five-bedroom penthouse in Ocean Heights in Dubai Marina is on sale for Dh25 million and comes with a private pool and an unparalleled view of Dubai.

Video: Local reactions to a national fishing ban

A federal fishing ban has been imposed by the UAE federal government, but local authorities are taking diiferent approaches to implementing the ban. Two fishermen tell two very different sides of the story. Produced by Paul O'Driscoll

 Walter Zenga is one win away from claiming silverware for the first time in the UAE. Karim Jaafar / AFP

Walter Zenga seeks early retribution at Al Jazira in Arabian Gulf Cup final

A victory over Al Ahli in the Arabian Gulf Cup final will help prove the Italian has turned around the fortunes of the capital club.

 The new Bentley GT Speed convertible on display at a press event of the New York International Auto Show. Jason Szenes / EPA

In pictures: Hot cars at New York International Auto Show

With more than 1 million visitors annually, the New York International Auto Show is one of the most important shows for the US car industry. Here are some of the vehicles to be shown in this year’s edition.

 The cast of Fast & Furious 7, including Michelle Rodriguez and Vin Diesel, centre, on set at Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

Fast & Furious 7 filming in full swing at Emirates Palace

Filming for Fast & Furious 7 has started and we have the first photos of the cast and crew on set at Emirates Palace hotel this morning. Visitors staying at Emirates Palace say they have been kept away from certain areas in the grounds.


To add your event to The National listings, click here

Get the most from The National