Tomorrow, representatives from the United States and the other permanent members of the UN Security Council (plus Germany) will sit down for talks in Baghdad with representatives from Iran. They'll be meeting with Islamic Republic's security council chief to gauge Tehran's commitment to its nuclear program, and its willingness to curtail uranium enrichment, both significantly and transparently.
The talks come mere days after Yukiya Amano, director of the International Agency for Atomic Energy (IAEA), announced he had reached terms granting the nuclear watchdog unprecedented access to Iran's nuclear sites and scientists. On the bright side, this is the first time since 2007 that Iran has allowed access to its nuclear infrastructure. However, skeptics claim that Iran's assurances of compliance simply hint at a none-too-subtle attempt to earn some leverage at the bargaining table. Of course, they're probably right.
Regardless, here's what's going on behind the scenes at the Baghdad talks:
- Grand Ayatollah Khamenei tapped Saeed Jalili as his personal emissary and chief negotiator. Although Jalili's not regularlydiscussed in the Western press, he's a bonafide ideologue and institutional hardliner who lost a leg fighting on the front lines of the Iran-Iraq war. His doctoral thesis in political science discussed the relevance of the Prophet Muhammd's seventh century musings to present day foreign affair. Good luck negotiating with this guy.
- With that said, there are serious, and growing fractures in Iran's leadership structure. President Ahmedinejad is on the outs, and top-tier clerical leadership is increasingly reliant on its allies in the military. Expect foreign delegates to attempt to negotiate around Jalili -- and attempt to treat with IRGC elements that may hold loyalty to Ayatollah Rafsanjani, as opposed to the ruling regime hierarchy.
- These talks have more to do with public perception than actual gains -- the United States and her partners are trying to impart that they mean business -- not only to leadership in Tehran, but to Iran's four key customers in China, India, South Korea and Japan. Iran exports most of its 2.2 million barrels of crude, per day, to these four Asian states. Absent their decision to boycott Iran's oil wealth, the Islamic Republic enjoys a barely sufficient reserve of money and power to stay afloat. South Korea now appears ready to get on board with Western import bans.
- Expect the Iranians to be in a foul humor. What else is new, right? Well, on Monday, the U.S. Senate extended crippling sanctions on the IRGC's hold on oil profits -- specifically their ability to ship oil and natural gas using their own fleet. In a society where the average Iranian depends on a monthly governmentallowance of $38 to purchase food, fuel and medicine, the impact of such sanctions are destructive to social cohesion. See, my second point.
- However effective the sanctions are proving -- and I am confident they are having a disastrous effect on the Iranian economy -- they can't remove the primary impetus to build a nuke. A nuclear weapons program is most effective as a defensive deterrent. If you don't believe me, just ask Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi. Oh, wait…
- Expect representatives from the United States and the EU to press for access to two particular sites that must command strictest scrutiny from international observers. The first, Parchin, is a military complex where nuclear weapons test may have occurred. The second, Fordow, is buried deep underground and may prove impervious to an Israeli air attack.
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