After a lot of sound and fury in the press about military options concerning the Iran nuclear program (largely around the visit to Washington by Netanyahu for the annual AIPAC meeting and discussion with President Obama)…things have gone rather quiet. Behind the scenes there seems to be tough discussion on precisely what it is that “we” want Iran to do by way of compliance. There is a pretty tough series of UN resolutions including UNSCR 1929 which aim for Iran to not only stop enrichment activities but ballistic missile work that could delivery nuclear weapons. It will be mighty tough for President Obama to do anything that appears to walk back from them…he already is accused of doing the moonwalk out of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Yet, there is an important meeting in Geneva coming up latter this month…possibly 13 April…between the so-called P-5+1 (namely the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) and Iran. This will ignite attention to this issue again.
Before this meeting there has to be some idea of what the six countries will agree as the goal for Iranian behavior. Secretary of State Clinton must will be having a tough time on this–to say the least. It will be damn hard to get China and Russia to agree to an up or down position demanding that Tehran must verifiably dismantle all its enrichment capacity, remove its stock of partially enriched uranium, shut down its successful ballistic missile program, etc. And yet, any less than this looks like “concessions” and will not likely satisfy Israel. In Washington, Iran will almost certainly be accused of trying to buy time.
Tehran, will know that there is not uniformity of views among the six nations across the table. They will certainly want to test the will of the very different countries facing them. And why not? What do they have to lose? They can agree to IAEA dismantling their nuclear capacity or they can string along negotiations and maybe Israel (or possibly the US) will blow up the capacity. In either case they lose it. But in the later case, they may in fact get more support domestically and even among some internationally. It may also be that they see this as a good test of whether China is going to fully step up and assert its place as the new ascending super-power. Tehran may have some unpredictable assessment of how these players will act. In Washington, we frankly have no clue what the real dynamics and motivations are behind Tehran’s decisons making–we can guess, we have to, but we really don’t know.
My guess is that the talks in Geneva will yield either a retreat on the part of Washington (no doubt characterized as tough) or some continuation of a negotiation process, or nothing substantive at all…followed by more sabre-rattling. And then…?
Don’t look for oil prices to drop any time soon. And American stock markets are going to be feeling the effects of continued uncertainty for some time now.