New York Times: Less than two weeks after its diplomats meet on Monday with those of the United States and five other major powers in Moscow, Iran faces the imposition of a potentially crippling European oil embargo and American banking sanctions.
The New York Times
By MARK LANDLER and ELLEN BARRY
Less than two weeks after its diplomats meet on Monday with those of the United States and five other major powers in Moscow, Iran faces the imposition of a potentially crippling European oil embargo and American banking sanctions.
Whether choking off Iran’s main source of revenue will persuade Tehran to accept a deal that curbs its nuclear ambitions is the critical question at these talks, which follow inconclusive meetings in Baghdad and Istanbul.
Administration officials and outside experts are loath to make a prediction.
“The reality is that they’re on the verge of a choice between having a nuclear program or an economy,” said Cliff Kupchan, a senior analyst on the Middle East at the Eurasia Group, a consulting firm. “There’s nothing like no money in your wallet to straighten your senses.”
Still, Mr. Kupchan and other analysts said they doubted there would be a breakthrough in Moscow. Even if Iran were to show a readiness to accept an interim deal — something the economic pressure makes more plausible — the United States and the other powers are probably not yet willing to meet Tehran’s terms.
The major powers are unlikely to accept a delay in the sanctions. And President Obama is not likely to recognize Iran’s right to enrich uranium, another of the Iranian leadership’s cherished objectives. Granting that concession, in an election year, would open Mr. Obama to criticism from his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, who has staked out a hawkish position on Iran.
The major powers are expected to renew their list of demands that Iran suspend the enrichment of uranium to 20 percent, ship out its stockpile of this uranium, and cease operations at Fordo, an enrichment facility buried in a mountain near Qum that alarms Israel because it could soon be immune to an airstrike.
“Both sides had false expectations about how little they had to give to get the other side to move,” said Colin H. Kahl, a former Pentagon official who is a professor at Georgetown University. “The question going into Moscow is: Has either side recalculated?”
What distinguishes this meeting, beyond the timing, is the location. It is the first of these sessions to be held in one of the negotiating countries, Russia. And it comes at a time when Russia, facing international opprobrium because of its ties to the brutal government in Syria, could use a diplomatic victory.
For all the tension between Russia and the United States over Syria — amplified last week by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s claim that Russia was sending attack helicopters to Damascus — the two countries are more closely aligned when it comes to Iran, according to officials. At the same session in which she criticized Russia about the helicopters, Mrs. Clinton foresaw a positive role for Moscow on Iran.
“The Russians have made it very clear that they expect the Iranians to advance the discussion in Moscow — not to just come, listen and leave,” Mrs. Clinton said. “We’ll know once it happens. But I think that the unity and the resolve that has been shown thus far is of real significance.”
In Russia, too, there are domestic political motivations at play. President Vladimir V. Putin, analysts said, is eager for a foreign policy achievement to gild his recent return to the Kremlin and to distinguish his presidency from that of his predecessor and protégé, Dmitri A. Medvedev, now the prime minister.
“A solution to the Iranian problem, or an attempt to solve it, may vividly demonstrate the new policy of Russia under Putin,” said Rajab S. Safarov, director of the Center for Modern Iran Studies, who traveled to Iran with Russia’s foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, on a preparatory visit last week.
But other Russian analysts say that Mr. Putin is not likely to devote much time to Iran if he does not see a chance for a quick payoff. He has had a fractious relationship with Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. After risking his reputation to make a high-profile visit to Iran in 2007, Mr. Putin found Mr. Ahmadinejad “recalcitrant or disdainful” of Russia’s search for compromise, said Dmitri V. Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center.
Iran, for its part, has been sending characteristically mixed signals. On Wednesday, after meeting Mr. Lavrov, Iran’s foreign minister, Ali Akbar Salehi, told reporters that he believed the negotiations were on the right track.
“This is a complex issue and we need to be patient, but we’re on the right track,” Mr. Salehi said. “Sometimes the process slows down and sometimes it accelerates, but over all I’m confident about the final outcome.”
However, other Iranian officials expressed bitterness that in Baghdad, the United States had backed off recognizing Iran’s right to enrich uranium, after appearing to endorse it in Istanbul. Winning that recognition, as much as winning relief from the sanctions, appears to be driving the Iranian negotiators.
Iranian officials blame Israel for the American change of heart, noting that the chief American negotiator, Wendy R. Sherman, stopped in Israel on her way home from Baghdad to brief the government.
“Why do the Americans rush off to Jerusalem after every time they have spoken to us?” said Hamid Sheikholeslami, an adviser to Iran’s former top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani. “The U.S. is clearly under pressure not to seriously negotiate with us.”
Administration officials dispute that, and say they have never recognized Iran’s right to enrich uranium in the talks. While the West is reluctant to delay the broader sanctions, analysts said the major powers would probably be open to suspending a European Union ban on insuring Iranian oil tankers.
That ban, by itself, imposes a heavy penalty: if it remains, Mr. Kupchan estimated, Iran will be unable to export 1.5 million barrels of oil a day — much of it to Asian customers — reducing its revenues by $4.5 billion a month.
Mark Landler reported from Washington, and Ellen Barry from Moscow. Thomas Erdbrink contributed reporting from Tehran.