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Iran nuclear deal enters the danger zone

By       Message Pepe Escobar     Permalink
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Reprinted from RT


From left: Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Vienna on Nov. 24.
(Image by European Pressphoto Agency)
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In the end, a nuclear deal with Iran was aborted in Vienna. Is that a hopeful sign? Or should everyone start praying -- and running for cover?

The players -- Iran and the P5+1 (the five UN permanent members plus Germany) -- not only missed the original November 24 deadline; they have now come up with two new deadlines; one on March 1 to reach a hazy "framework agreement," and the second -- in theory -- on July 1 for the final deal.

The P5+1 and Iran are negotiating under the November 2103 Geneva Joint Plan of Action -- which calls for a freeze of some aspects of Iran's nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of sanctions, but not all sanctions. After all some of these illegal sanctions have absolutely nothing to do with the Iranian nuclear program, and must be lifted by the US Congress.

Seven months is an eternity in geopolitics. Iranian diplomats have tried to put on a brave face, insisting postponement may be a lesser evil considering there have been no rhetorical escalation, and no new sanctions.

And yet seven more months leave the negotiations exposed to open fire from the usual (radicalized) suspects, which in Washington are a formidable warmongering lot (Republicans en masse, most Democrats, neo-cons, the Israel and Saudi lobbies, and key sectors of the industrial-military complex).

Meanwhile, in Iran, the head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Gen. Mohammad Ali Jafari, and the head of the Basiji militias, Gen. Mohammad Reza Nagdi, have criticized not only the negotiations themselves but also some of the P5+1 nations.

What went wrong?

The key points of contention remain; how may centrifuges Iran is allowed to operate; the duration of the deal (Iran wants a maximum of five years; the US wants over 10); and the crucial timeline for the lifting of sanctions (Iran wants all of them -- by the UN, the US and the EU -- lifted immediately; the US insists on a slow and gradual process.)

The key objective also remains; most of all a normalization between Iran and the US (the 35-year, and counting, Wall of Mistrust), as well as the EU. Relations between Iran and Russia/China are excellent.

A solid case can be made that the whole, interminable drama is a non-issue in the first place because Iran -- as even the acronym feast of US intelligence agencies admit -- does not have a nuclear weapons program; Tehran uses civilian nuclear enrichment to generate electricity.

The Obama administration gives the impression that Iran may be allowed to have a civilian nuclear program that cannot be diverted to military means. This is spun in the US as a benign gesture.

Still it makes no sense that the recent negotiations in Oman and then in Vienna, culminating with seven foreign ministers debating in the same room, have not ironed out the details -- even allowing for language acceptable to domestic public opinion in each country.

In Oman, to solve the centrifuge controversy, Russia offered to host most of Iran's stockpile of unprocessed uranium. That was the remix of an idea first floated five years ago. Moscow did this to boost Tehran in its -- rightful -- demands, coupled with a promise to help develop the Iranian nuclear program.

So obviously the Iranian negotiators used the Russian offer to coax Washington into getting more realistic. What was already clear by then is that Tehran won't sacrifice any of its rights to get a deal -- just based on a vague promise of alleviation of some sanctions.

After all, last month, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei published an 11-point list of Tehran red lines. These are non-negotiable -- and include the right to proceed with civilian nuclear research, and to enrich uranium for civilian purposes.

Well-positioned observers in Tehran stress President Rouhani as a middle of the road moderate who won't sell -- or won't be allowed to sell -- the economy to Uncle Sam. One of them told me, "he has a handle on what is happening in the economy; he has been able to tame the galloping inflation. In terms of reconciliation with the great Satan, the boss is not going to allow him to achieve an accommodation at the expense of economic, cultural, national security, and national rights."

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Pepe Escobar is an independent geopolitical analyst. He writes for RT, Sputnik and TomDispatch, and is a frequent contributor to websites and radio and TV shows ranging from the US to East Asia. He is the former roving correspondent for Asia (more...)
 

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