Trying to understand what Iran wants in its nuclear program can be exasperating and even futile.
Obviously, the world doesn’t really know what the chiefs in Tehran want nor can we take their denials at militarizing their program at face value because a) Tehran has a history of breaking the rules, b) Tehran’s nuclear program is far from transparent and c) Tehran might have a lot to gain regionally from a nuclear bomb.
The message to Iran – don’t build a bomb!
Iran with a nuclear bomb will put the P5+1 and the UN in a position in which they will have to demilitarize Iran’s nuclear power by force which might lead to a war that will make the Gulf War look like a neighborhood squabble.
The US is desperate for Iran to sign a deal because the immediate alternative is to increase sanctions against Iran which might cause a further fall-out of support from countries who are hungry to capitalize on Iran’s wealth of natural energy. Increasing sanctions and watching them being circumvented by its own partners would be a real slap in the face which the US would have to answer with military aggression.
So what does the US, the P5+1 and the UN want from Iran? To maintain a transparent nuclear program that includes a longer break-out time for it to build a bomb if it decided to do so.
The messages from Iran – maybe, maybe not
Since Rouhani was elected president, the signals from Tehran were decidedly mixed: Rouhani called for a change that will bring a rapprochement with the West, end the burden of sanctions and allow Iranians to prosper.
But at the same time, the mullahs in Tehran wanted to maintain the nuclear program “as is” regardless of the fact that much of it was based on clear digressions from IAEA rules and regulations that there were military dimensions to the program and that the demand for enrichment and plutonium production countered the civil energy claims.
And since Khamenei is the supreme power, it is enough to view his mixed signals to get the picture: Initially, Khamenei supported the Iranian negotiators encouraging them to practice “heroic flexibility” in regards to giving up parts of the program. But once the P5+1 negotiators tried to block the holes in the initial deal (the heavy water plant in Arak, topping Uranium enrichment at 5%, opening up the Parchin military base etc…), Khamenei’s support withered and strengthened depending on his moods or the rhetoric of the US. Two months ago, he aggressively identified Iran’s red lines and last week he stated that the nuclear talks “were harmful to Iran“.
But Khamenei is relatively stable compared to Zarif. Zarif is consistently inconsistent in creating an environment of optimism mixed with pessimism. His attitude remains cordial and friendly with a “take it or leave it” attitude that may or may not be a bluff. He has constantly repeated that sanctions have not hurt Iran but requests repeatedly for all sanctions to be lifted. He has denied cooperating with the US-led coalition against ISIS but is now ready to cooperate as long as Iran will be repaid in leniency on the nuclear deal. He is quick to smile but is also quicker to blame.
Nobody really knows if there will be a deal or not.
One thing is for sure, Iran seems less desperate than the US for a deal and, as any negotiator will tell you, that gives Iran an advantage.
Although sanctions are still in force, the Iranian economy has benefitted from the negotiations themselves with hundreds of delegations flying into Tehran to sniff out the chances to business with Iran while countries like Russia, Turkey, Iraq and China simply disregard any sanctions.
The “relativity of threats” has also impacted the resolve. In weighing the need to destroy ISIS against minimizing and Iranian nuclear break-out, the West has given the Iranians an extra boost in their ability to make a better deal…for them.