By Sal Bommarito
The New York Times reports that a major breakthrough is possible in the negotiations with Iran regarding its nuclear energy program.
This development could be critical not only for the safety of the Middle East, but also for the ISIS crisis. If a deal can be struck that prevents Iran from using its uranium to build a weapon, the world will be safer. If this situation is rectified, it opens the possibility that Iran could become a productive member of the coalition fighting ISIS.
Now the bad news. The U.S. and Russia have not been as antagonistic towards each other since the Cold War ended. Russia is currently invading Ukraine, and the U.S. led a successful effort to implement economic sanctions in protest. The competition between the two super powers has reached an apex.
The U.S.’s status in the world has been greatly impacted by its ambivalent diplomacy. Frankly, most nations are skeptical about the U.S.’s integrity and willingness to keep promises made to its allies. This attitude is particularly prevalent in the Middle East where much of the trouble is brewing.
Perhaps Iran can live with a program in which its uranium is shipped to Russia and converted into fuel rods that can only be used for peaceful purposes. A plethora of other issues need to be settled before a deal is consummated, including the number of permitted centrifuges, the fate of a heavy-water reactor that produces plutonium and the inspection process.
Most important are the differing endgames of the U.S., Iran and Russia. Neither the U.S. nor Russia wants Iran to possess a nuclear weapon; Iran has not agreed to comply. Russia wants to assess Iran exorbitant fees to convert the uranium; the U.S. is not excited about any new programs that benefit the Russian economy. Russia would like to become more engaged in the Middle East; the U.S. certainly does not want yet another antagonist disrupting the region. The U.S. must be concerned with Israel reacting aggressively about the chances of Iran developing a nuclear weapon.
It is highly likely that negotiations relating to Iran’s role in fighting ISIS will spill over into the nuclear discussions. This is problematic because it may influence the U.S. to make a very bad long-term decision for a short-term benefit. Moreover, the Obama administration is so hungry for a diplomatic success that it might agree to something that will have disastrous consequences.
We should be enthusiastic about new negotiations that could decrease nuclear proliferation. However, it is too early to celebrate because the U.S. must deal with some very devious adversaries.