Hopes that last week’s diplomatic round between the P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany) and Iran would produce progress on the nuclear question have begun to wane, hampered by a media pushback from hardliners on both sides.
From the West, we’ve had a series of somewhat dubious articles about nefarious Iranian activities, just days after the completion of the talks and the announcement that they would continue in June. First, the AP used anonymous sources to make a damning accusation about highly enriched uranium found by IAEA inspectors at an Iranian facility. But in reality, the article only cites “trace” amounts of uranium enriched up to 27%, which could easily be explained by technical reasons. The headline makes no mention of the insignificance of this finding. Next, a story out today from Joby Warrick accuses Iran and Hezbollah of working together on assassination attempts, but there’s little beyond conjecture in the article.
From the Iranian side, whether in reaction or just from their own hardliners, we have this. First, one anonymous Iranian diplomat called the P5+1 talks a complete failure, saying that the West demanded too much in return for the small carrots they were willing to give to Iran on civilian nuclear energy. Those anonymous whispers led to this announcement today.
Iran’s nuclear chief, reversing the country’s previous statements, said on state television on Sunday that the country would not halt its production of higher-grade uranium, suggesting that the Iranian government was veering back to a much harder line after talks in Baghdad with the West last week ended badly.
The official, Fereydoon Abbasi, said there would be no suspension of enrichment by Iran, the central requirement of several United Nations Security Council resolutions. He specifically said that applied to uranium being enriched to 20 percent purity — a steppingstone that puts it in fairly easy reach of producing highly enriched uranium that can be used for nuclear weapons.
“We have no reason to retreat from producing the 20 percent, because we need 20 percent uranium just as much to meet our needs,” Mr. Abbasi said, according to Iranian state television.
I think we can assess this by acknowledging that there are hardliners on both sides who are heavily invested in not having this standoff end diplomatically. In the US, this leads to anonymous media leaks about Iranian treachery, and very public displays like the Senate vote tightening sanctions on the Islamic Republic, which happened on the eve of negotiations, and which leading Iranian negotiator Said Jalili said poisoned the atmosphere at the talks.
In Iran, hardliners use these actions as proof that the West will not keep their promises, leading to belligerence and defiance. Both sides’ hardliners work off one another to their mutual benefit, in other words. It becomes very difficult in such an environment to find anything resembling sanity.
The next hurdle is the EU oil embargo on Iran scheduled for July 1. This also could affect shipping of Iranian oil worldwide. Hopefully this escalation in tensions is just an effort to gain maximum leverage for the June talks. But things aren’t looking great.