Tough Iran talk — but chances for deal


As Iran nu­clear talks go into the home stretch, top of­fi­cials in Tehran are dig­ging in on po­si­tions that ap­pear set to doom the ne­go­ti­a­tions to fail­ure. But Iran seems ready to blink when it serves its ne­go­ti­at­ing strat­egy, which may bode well for a deal.

The sides on Wed­nes­day be­gan ne­go­ti­at­ing the last phases of a deal that would lift sanc­tions on Iran if it agrees to long-term curbs on its nu­clear pro­gram. They wouldn’t have got­ten there with­out com­pro­mises by both Wash­ing­ton and Tehran.

For Iran, that has meant climb­ing down from po­si­tions it ini­tially de­scribed as not ne­go­tiable. That strat­egy of tough talk first and con­ces­sions later could be re­vived as ne­go­tia­tors work to­ward a June dead­line.

For now, the Ira­ni­ans are in­sist­ing on im­me­di­ate sanc­tions re­lief while re­ject­ing U.S. de­mands for deeply in­tru­sive mon­i­tor­ing to make sure Tehran hews to its obligations.

Both de­mands go against com­mit­ments Wash­ing­ton says Tehran has al­ready made in the frame­work deal agreed to ear­lier this month — and both are po­ten­tial deal break­ers for a com­pre­hen­sive ac­cord. But that doesn’t seem to im­press the Ira­ni­ans.

Iran’s supreme leader, Ay­a­tol­lah Ali Khamenei, says all sanc­tions must be “lifted com­pletely, on the very first day of the deal” and has de­clared that mil­i­tary sites are off lim­its “to for­eign­ers ... un­der the pre­text of in­spec­tions.” Brig. Gen. Hos­sein Salami of the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guards warns that any­one set­ting foot into an Ira­nian mil­i­tary fa­cil­ity will be met with “hot lead” — a hail of bul­lets.

Un­ten­able for Both Po­si­tions

In fact, Iran must know that both po­si­tions are un­ten­able, sug­gest­ing it is again push­ing the en­ve­lope as a ne­go­ti­at­ing tac­tic. U.S. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama can lift sanc­tions im­posed through ex­ec­u­tive or­ders but can­not in­stantly end oth­ers passed by Congress, let alone for­eign coun­tries.

There’s also an ap­par­ent dis­con­nect be­tween the lim­its laid down by Khamenei and Salami on verification of Iran’s com­mit­ments and what the Ira­ni­ans have pre­vi­ously said they would al­low.

A fact sheet pub­lished by Tehran ear­lier this month has it agree­ing to im­ple­ment the Ad­di­tional Pro­to­col, the In­ter­na­tional Atomic En­ergy Agency’s most po­tent mon­i­tor­ing in­stru­ment. Such an agree­ment would give that U.N. agency the right to push hard to probe any sites it sus­pects may be hid­ing nu­clear ac­tiv­ity — mil­i­tary in­stal­la­tions in­cluded.

All of which leaves Tehran with two op­tions — tone down ex­pec­ta­tions or walk away from the ta­ble. But aban­don­ing the talks is un­likely, even if Iran dis­misses as a bluff the la­tent threat of U.S. or Is­raeli mil­i­tary strikes should ne­go­ti­a­tions fail.

The cur­rent lead­er­ship needs an end to sanc­tions. Mass out­breaks of public joy greeted ne­go­tia­tors as they re­turned home with the frame­work agree­ment in their pock­ets ear­lier this month. Fail­ure now would lead to eco­nomic gloom and the pos­si­ble threat of so­cial in­sta­bil­ity.

Iran in­stead is likely to re­turn to the script it used to reach the frame­work agree­ment that opened the way to the present talks.

Ira­nian of­fi­cials ini­tially pledged that not a sin­gle piece of Iran’s nu­clear in­fra­struc­ture would be dis­man­tled — but then agreed to halve the num­ber of ma­chines that could be turned to mak­ing nu­clear arms. They also com­mit­ted to re­stric­tions not for the few years they orig­i­nally de­manded but for over a decade.

In the end, Iran met the Amer­i­cans in the mid­dle, and that is in­creas­ing hopes even among skep­tics that it will do so again now.

For­mer U.S. ne­go­tia­tor Gary Samore says he thought Khamenei “was se­ri­ous about his red lines.” Now, he says, “I see he’s not.

“The Ira­nian in­cen­tive to get sanc­tions re­lief is so strong that he is pre­pared to sac­ri­fice or ac­cept lim­its on his nu­clear pro­gram.”

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