News / Middle East

    Will Iran's Election Bring Nuclear Talks Thaw?

    Presidential candidates from left: Saeed Jalili, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Gholam Ali Haddad Adel, parliament lawmaker, and Hasan Rowhani, former top nuclear negotiator, attend TV debate, Tehran, June 7, 2013.
    Presidential candidates from left: Saeed Jalili, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Gholam Ali Haddad Adel, parliament lawmaker, and Hasan Rowhani, former top nuclear negotiator, attend TV debate, Tehran, June 7, 2013.
    The United States and the European Union believe Iran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons, but Tehran says its program is for peaceful, civilian purposes.
     
    As Iranians head to the polls this week to choose a new president, talks with the West and the United Nations over the nuclear issue have been stalled. Analysts remain skeptical whether a new man in office will make any difference.
     
    Jim Walsh, an expert on Iran’s nuclear program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), says the Iranian leadership is apparently divided on the nuclear issue.
     
    “The Director for National Intelligence [James Clapper], the highest ranking intelligence officer in the U.S. government, has testified this year that Iran has not yet made a decision to build a bomb,” Walsh said. “Now, they want a capability — they have a basic capability because they know how to make centrifuges — but they haven’t made that critical political decision to go ahead and cross that bridge and decide to build a bomb.”
     
    No progress in talks
     
    For years the international community has been trying to persuade Iran to end its uranium enrichment program — but to no avail. Low-enriched uranium can be used for civilian nuclear power plants, but highly enriched uranium is an integral part of a nuclear bomb.
     
    Two rounds of international negotiations this year failed to yield any progress.
     
    In an effort to pressure Iran to end its uranium enrichment program, the United Nations Security Council has imposed sanctions on Iran. In addition, several individual nations, including the United States, have imposed their own measures — for example, targeting Tehran’s oil industry and financial sector.
     
    Former U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker, whose foreign posts included Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria, calls sanctions a double-edged sword.
     
    “I have seen it with sanctions elsewhere, including Iraq — manipulative, autocratic regimes, whether in Iraq or Iran, can manipulate sanctions in a way that the regime doesn’t suffer but the people do,” Crocker said. “That clearly is not our intent.”
     
    While Walsh says sanctions do have their place, he questions whether they have achieved their goal.
     
    “At the end of the day, whether they are good or bad doesn’t really matter," he said. "The question is, are we achieving our policy objective? Is the Iranian nuclear program capped? Is it being reduced in size?
     
    "And sadly, the answer to those questions is ‘no,’'' Walsh said. “And we can continue to do the same thing over and over and over again and have it fail over and over and over again, or we can try to rethink what we are doing and try to actually achieve our objective.”
     
    Post-election thaw?
     
    Some analysts, including both Crocker and Walsh, believe the way to move forward is to engage Iran in negotiations.
     
    Ambassador Crocker, who has negotiated with the Iranians, says even failed talks can have positive results.
     
    “Negotiations aren’t only about getting to ‘yes,’ particularly with a complex, sophisticated and to us often opaque country like Iran,” he said. “If you can get to ‘yes,’ that’s good, but if you get to ‘no’ — and the reason you get to ‘no’ is because of their intransigence — then you emerge in a stronger position for whatever comes next.”
     
    As Iranians prepare to elect a new president on Friday, Walsh says the post-election period may provide a good chance for progress on the nuclear front.
     
    “If the election goes smoothly,” he said, “there will be a window of opportunity following their presidential election and before the end of President Obama’s term, where if the parties want to get something done, that’s the time to do it.”
     
    Both Walsh and Crocker, however, say Washington and Tehran must break the cycle of mistrust between them in order to seriously address issues such as Iran’s suspected intention to develop nuclear weapons.

    Andre de Nesnera

    Andre de Nesnera is senior analyst at the Voice of America, where he has reported on international affairs for more than three decades. Now serving in Washington D.C., he was previously senior European correspondent based in London, established VOA’s Geneva bureau in 1984 and in 1989 was the first VOA correspondent permanently accredited in the Soviet Union.

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    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Godwin from: Nigeria
    June 12, 2013 10:02 AM
    This election has nothing to do with it. Iran under Khamenei has decided to go ahead with nuclear capability. The elected officers have no say in how Iran is ruled - they only carry out orders given by the spiritual leader. Elections in Iran mean just nothing; if Ahmadinejad was unable to say his mind let alone challenge the sha's opinion, how much is any new "elected" officer expected to achieve under the same selector and maker of Iran's policies? Giving Iran the long period to make and present an election, is the nuclear program also waiting all the while for a new leader to emerge, or has the program continued till Iran gets beyond the limits only for the international community afraid of nuclear death to start on their knees to negotiate? Seems the situation is already hopeless, after all it's already in the hands of North Korea and Pakistan who are good allies with extremism and fanaticism.

    So if there has been a lull in negotiation and not in the nuclear program of Iran, then it is better to forget it, for by now the regime must have had time enough to arrive at their destination -whatever it is. And there is no guarantee that the program or its prototype is not already in the hands of Hezbollah. The issue here is that the whole world and not only USA and Israel have been short-changed by whoever is policing the Iran program. The whole process appears to have little sincerity and the world is about to wake up to the greeting of yet another nuclear power from the northern hemisphere - a terrorist for that matter after North Korea - aiming the nuzzles of its ballistic missile with nuclear warheads at whoever dares to speak up against them. And someone will be glad that it will first be fired at Israel. USA as is now is more talk and less action. Lack of direction?

    by: Change Iran Now from: US
    June 12, 2013 12:20 AM
    It's highly doubtful there will be any real meaningful changes in Iran's nuclear policy because of Khamenei's hardline insistence. While Iran's Supreme Leader Khamenei has hand-picked his guys and is engineering a record voter turnout, helped along by the cheerful menace of the Revolutionary Guard to the polls, this election leaves little doubt as to what the outcome will be since whoever wins will be effectively managed by Khamenei as fully as a puppet master. Consequently, while we in the West might be buoyed by a so-called reform candidate, the bitter truth is that this election will lead to no reforms. Along with this pre-determined outcome will be the constant struggles we will have with Iran's continued support of state sponsored terrorism, naked efforts to build nuclear weapons and a policy of using economic sanctions as an excuse to punish and oppress the Iranian people.

    At the end of the day, we can only hope that the Iranian people will boycott these elections and deny Khamenei the sense of legitimacy he craves and continue international diplomatic pressure in conjunction with support for dissident groups such as the NCRI and PMOI who are really doing the heavy lifting of fighting for regime change.

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