Middle East

America has already struck a ‘deal’ over the Iranian Nuclear issue; all that remains is its announcement at a time of her choosing!

The various comments from official interlocutors after the meeting of the Iranian regime and the P5 + 1 group (USA, UK, China, Russia, France + Germany) in Almaty, Kazakhstan at the end of February suggested cautious optimism that a compromise on the Iranian nuclear issue could be reached since it first emerged on the world scene in 2002. The Iranians heralded the talks as a “turning point in relations” whilst the P5+1 group showed renewed confidence prior to a further set of talks scheduled for April.

However, to the contrary, and upon closer inspection the Iranian nuclear issue has in fact all the ingredients of a ‘crisis’ that has already been settled, bar the final details and official announcement. The basic tenants of a ‘deal’ have been on the horizon for a while now and would involve an Iranian agreement to limit its nuclear enrichment capability; store excess nuclear fuels in other countries; permit intrusive IAEA inspections of its facilities in return for the lifting of sanctions against the Iranian economy from the USA and EU.

International attention first surfaced on Iran in 2002 upon discovery of nuclear enrichment activity which triggered IAEA concerns as it was seen as contravening Iran’s obligations as a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Since then the US, EU and global media have fuelled the narrative of an intransigent Iran bringing the world to the cusp of a nuclear crisis.

Iranian complicity with the USA

What is less well known is that simultaneously to the discovery of Iranian nuclear enrichment activity; Iran and the US have been in almost permanent contact and dialogue to discuss this and other issues. Evidence of ‘Secret Track II’ [1] talks first emerged 10 years ago, in 2003, between diplomats and advisors from both sides as part of US efforts to engage Iran post the Iraq invasion with a view to quelling the Iraqi resistance and consolidate US presence in the region.

Covert back channel diplomacy has never wavered and has included prominent and former US administration officials such as Ambassador Thomas Pickering over the years [2]. In 2003, both governments used third party intermediaries to develop wider information sharing after Iran’s tacit support of the US in defeating the Taliban and Al Qaeda remnants. That year, a secret communique or roadmap was mooted where Iran would abandon Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) as part of a broader framework of US-Iranian mutual and shared interests [3].

In many cases the rapprochement between Iranian and US officials, notwithstanding the public animosity and rhetoric of imminent attack, has been at Iranian behest that transcends successive regimes. Former US officials were quoted in 2008 with the comments;

“A number of Iranian officials—reflecting a variety of political perspectives and occupying a range of positions during the Rafsanjani, Khatami, and Ahmadinejad presidencies—have told us that they anticipated that tactical cooperation with the United States would lead to a broader, strategic opening between the two nations…” [4]

The past few years has seen a steady erosion of almost every obstacle that the US administration first touted in its opposition to Iran’s nuclear programme and potential to develop nuclear weapons. Right from the onset Iran was categorical in its stated aim to not, under any circumstances, develop nuclear weapons or a nuclear bomb but pursue civilian nuclear energy and to abide by the NPT treaty. President Ahmadinejad later confirmed that Iran would not build atomic weapons [5] and Ayatollah Ali Khaemeni has stated on numerous occasions his edict on the prohibition of the possession and use of nuclear weapons. [6]

In 2009 Iran said it was amenable to IAEA inspections of its nuclear sites such as in the city of Qom, thereby laying the precedent that the inspection of its nuclear sites and facilities would not in principle be opposed [7]. The following year, Ahmadinejad said the regime was prepared to even forego low enriched uranium (LEU) of 20% (well short of weapons grade uranium which is 90%) provided it was assured of nuclear fuel supplies from elsewhere [8].

Moreover, to further assuage US and EU concerns that its uranium stockpiles would not be developed further to nuclear weapons grade capability Iran agreed to store its LEU in other countries so that there was absolutely no chance of further enrichment [9]. More recently, Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi indicated the Iranian position of enriching uranium to a maximum of 5%, short of even 20% LEU, as well as reiterating previous Iranian concessions [10].

Prolonging the nuclear impasse

With Iranian pragmatism in acquiescing to almost every western demand, coupled with behind the scenes US co-operation why, one may ask, has the nuclear impasse dragged on for this many years.

The answer to this is that whilst US policy makers have benefited over the past decade from Iranian assistance in first Afghanistan and then in Iraq post 2003, the US has deftly used the Iranian nuclear programme to raise the spectre of nuclear conflict and proliferation in the region to further cement its own relationships with other Gulf and Middle Eastern states.

This has been done by the sale and deployment of the latest weapons and armaments (Israel and Turkey) or by increasing its troop presence in the region (Saudi and Gulf). For example, over the past two years the US has increased its military footprint in Kuwait (expanded military base); UAE (F22 stealth fighters); combat helicopters, submarines, hi-tech weapons and a second aircraft carrier battle group (Persian Gulf). In short, the backdrop of a nuclear stalemate between Iran and western powers has been a useful tool to further US hegemony.

At the same time, other complicating factors have also emerged that have been more of a hindrance to US desires to formalise a nuclear deal with Iran. Israeli insistence on luring the USA into a pre-emptive attack on Iran has been a constant irritation to the US administration and has led to a continuous ramping up of the sanctions against Iran. Equally, the rhetoric from officials and public mistrust on both sides such as George W Bush placing Iran in his infamous ‘axis of evil’ speech and a more recent description by officials of Ahmadinejad as a ‘headcase’ means that it takes a long time for such agreements to be aired publically.

Factors which mean a nuclear deal will be announced shortly:

1. Israeli efforts during the years 2009-12 to engineer an attack and draw the US into its war plans appear to have now receded with Obama’s 2nd Presidential election victory and Netanyahu’s weakened position at home. Israeli efforts to put a time limit on curtailing the Iranian nuclear programme have come, passed and are frequently changing thus reducing their impact [11]

2. US wider interests in talking up an Iranian nuclear threat have now served their purpose through its increased presence and weapons sales in the Persian Gulf region

3. The Iranian Presidential elections in June will usher in a new leader who will be free from the hyperbole and anti western rhetoric associated with Ahmadinejad; this makes the prospect of a nuclear deal all the more likely

4. The support given by the Iranian regime to the brutal Assad regime in Syria has weakened its standing and increased pressure on it to cave in to any further nuclear activity curtailment

5. Obama’s desire for a second term foreign policy success, as all 2nd term presidents seek, by which to cement his legacy on the global arena will mean added focus to resolving the outstanding issues and declaring an agreement

In the final analysis, all the components of a resolution to the Iranian nuclear issue are falling into place. Iranian capitulation to US and EU demands in forsaking nuclear weapons and the strategic advantages this gives has been consistent whilst US aims to elongate the crisis to secure other interests are now ending.

It appears likely that after the Iranian Presidential elections this year the new incumbent will be saddled with the mantle of ‘the moderate’ that was previously bestowed upon the Khatami and Rafsanjani regimes.

Yet, even with a deal over the nuclear issue concluded the Iranian regime despite its connivance with the US on a range of issues cannot rest easy. For America, regime change in Iran is still a generational aspiration in which policy planners and thinkers wish for the ending of even the semblance of religious based rule in the Islamic world, lest it become firmly established in the minds of the Ummah and precipitates wider calls for the total implementation of Islam and the Caliphate.

Zubair Hussain


[1] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/politics/us-and-iran-holding-secret-talks-on-nuclear-programme-808647.html

[2] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/politics/us-and-iran-holding-secret-talks-on-nuclear-programme-808647.html

[3] http://www.raceforiran.com/

[4] http://www.raceforiran.com/

[5] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-11709428


[7] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/oct/04/iran-nuclear-weapon-inspection?INTCMP=SRCH

[8] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/aug/20/ahmadinejad-iran-uranium-enriching?INTCMP=SRCH

[9] http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/8685846.stm

[10] http://www.worldpolicy.org/journal/winter2012/chatroom-ali-akbar-salehi

[11] http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/julian-borger-global-security-blog/2012/jan/25/israel-iran?INTCMP=SRCH