Last Thursday, a new round of talks began in Geneva between Iran and the P5+1 countries. The P5+1 countries are comprised of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, namely the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia, China and France, plus Germany. Observers of the talks seemed quite optimistic given the understanding stance of both the United States and Iran in recent talks.
There is certainly reason for this optimism as a rapprochement between the United States and Iran is seen as more viable now than ever before. During the UN General Assembly in September, there was a historic phone call between President Obama and the newly-elected moderate, President Rouhani. Moreover, Secretary of State John Kerry and Iran’s Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, are spearheading the current negotiations. This is the highest-level face-to-face interaction between American and Iranian government officials in decades. The involvement of such high-level officials clearly indicates seriousness on the part of both countries in trying to resolve this issue diplomatically.
The Geneva talks were expected to bring a resolution to Iran’s controversial nuclear program, which it claims is solely for nuclear energy, medical treatments and research. Other countries, specifically Israel, the US and some Western European allies, are of the opinion that Iran is attempting to build nuclear weapons and is deceiving the IAEA and the world. And some countries were not shy to express their honest opinions about a resolution. Secretary of State Kerry arrived at the talks after meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv. Netanyahu was very open about his dissatisfaction of a possible resolution. “This is a very bad deal and Israel utterly rejects it. Israel is not obliged by this agreement and Israel will do everything it needs to do to defend itself and defend the security of its people”.
Israel seems to have attempted to do everything it needs to stop an agreement, as the talks took an unexpected turn for the worse, when many believed a resolution was near. As Western and Iranian negotiations were putting the finishing touches on a resolution, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius joined in the talks last minute and the negotiations unraveled. Shortly thereafter, the talks ended with plans to resume again on November 20th. France has become one of the most important allies to Israel after the US, and it seems this triggered the unraveling of the negotiations. Prime Minister Netanyahu was not ready to accept a resolution that would allow Iran to maintain its nuclear capabilities and possibly reduce certain sanctions in return for transparency. Netanyahu, along with neo-conservatives on Capitol Hill, are very much of the belief that the sanctions are working, and should be increased to mount pressure on Iran. Prime Minister Fabius was in agreement with Netanyahu on this point and refused to accept the resolution in its current format.
While the Obama Administration is pushing for a diplomatic solution as a means to protect the US, Israel and its interests in the Middle East, a rift is quickly growing between the US and Israel on its strategy towards Iran. After Netanyahu’s disapproval of a deal before the Geneva talks began, Secretary of State Kerry publically asked certain countries to not jump to conclusions before knowing details of the proposed deal. White House spokesperson Josh Earnest also dismissed criticism from Israel over a deal as “premature”. Israel’s uncompromising stance, while praised by certain neo-conservative lawmakers back in Washington DC, is becoming more and more unpopular. This window of opportunity to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue will not be open forever, and Iran and the US are aware of this.
If a better compromise is reached in the coming weeks, then France and Israel are not judged as harshly. However, if talks do fail, “France may have effectively scuttled any option of ending Iran’s nuclear program without using military force, something no country — including Israel — wants to do.”
This delay in the talks till November 20th could be detrimental if proponents of war and additional sanctions build momentum in Congress. This has put the White House on defense in vocally calling for Congress to approve of a diplomatic solution and an alleviation of sanctions. As Congress debates increasing sanctions, Secretary of State Kerry has stated that he believes it would be a “mistake” and suggested a temporary pause. He was also expected to brief members of the Senate Banking Committee at a closed-door session later in the week on this issue.
Trita Parsi of the National Iranian American Council says that it is clear that the US Administration and others want a deal signed before a debate on sanctions heats up in Congress again. “Part of the reason why the talks continued until 2 a.m. in the morning on what was in reality the fourth day when they were supposed to be two days is precisely because of the awareness on all sides, except for the French, that if they don’t get something now, it’s going to be more difficult.” Momentum is currently very high to reach an agreement. On November 20th, Iran and the P5+1 countries need to remember that the security of an entire region is at stake. If all parties do not make compromises, everyone will come out a loser in the end.