Yesterday's negotiations in Baghdad over Iran's nuclear programme have gone into overtime. That means that: 1) the talks are as tough and contentious as expected, and 2) there's enough hope of progress to keep the meeting going for an unscheduled second day.
At stake? The possibility of a peaceful resolution to the tense stand-off that has much of the world on edge.
'Not yet sufficient'
Yesterday, the so-called P5+1 countries (UN Security Council permanent members China, Russia, Britain, France and the US, plus Germany) presented Iran with a package of proposals designed to entice the Islamic Republic to back away from its uranium enrichment programme. Iran has been boosting the radioactive material to 20 percent purity, close to weapons grade – a prime concern for the countries that suspect Iran is trying to build a nuclear device.
The “sweeteners” reportedly offered include a pledge not to impose further economic sanctions, the easing of sanctions on spare parts for civil aviation, plus the ending of a ban on insurance for Iranian oil shipments.
Tehran came with a package of its own – demanding that, before any talks on uranium enrichment, the west loosen existing sanctions and cancel tougher ones scheduled to take effect this summer. That's something the US and others say they will not do unless Iran acts first.
An Iranian official told Agence France-Presse that “the points of agreement are not yet sufficient” to justify scheduling further talks. But at this point, another round of talks – where an actual agreement might start to take shape – is what negotiators for the P5+1 group want most.
Something's gotta give
Everyone involved wants to avoid a stalemate. If this meeting ends without an agreement to keep talking, the options for peacefully defusing the confrontation diminish significantly. And over the proceedings hangs the Israeli threat of a pre-emptive military strike against Iran, a scenario that could easily trigger a cascade of catastrophic events around the region.
Someone has to make the first concession to get the logjam unblocked. If Iran rejects the P5+1 group's opening gambit out of hand – and if those powers stick to their demand for Tehran to make a tangible move away from enrichment before sanctions are eased – the irresistible force and the immovable object could meet in extremely unpleasant ways.
Further reading: "Ayatollah for a Day": Karim Sadjadpour's thought-provoking article in Foreign Affairs about his experience war-gaming the results of an Israeli strike against Iran.