Iran nuclear talks still up in the air


There’s still no agreement on a new meeting between Iran and six world powers, a western diplomat said Friday.

“No change. Contacts are ongoing,” a spokesperson for European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton told the Back Channel Friday.

As to what accounts for the hold up, a former Iran nuclear negotiator said Iran had been seeking to learn what was in the updated P5+1 package in advance of the meeting, but been refused. “Tehran was very much afraid that again [it] would receive a weak package similar to previous ones, talks would fail, and as always Tehran would be blamed,” Hossein Mousavian told the Back Channel Thursday.

But western officials might be forgiven for wondering if Iran may just be giving them the run-around. And some Iranian analysts acknowledge that may not be too far off the mark, though they think Iran will eventually agree to a meeting date.

“Why rush into talks that everyone agrees will not get them anything substantial,” Hossein Shahbazi, a US-based Iran analyst, translated Iranian thinking to the Back Channel Friday.

From Tehran’s perspective, the “Iranians are not actually playing a terribly bad game now,” Shahbazi continued. They don’t think military action is in the offing. And though Congress continues to pile on sanctions, Iran believes they can withstand them for some time, he said.

Ultimately, “the talks will take place, as Iran doesn’t want to be blamed for their failure,” Shahbazi said. “But, addressing Iran’s important need for sanctions relief will be necessary for having Iranians to act constructively towards the talks going forward.”

Several national security experts have been urging the Obama administration to pursue bolder diplomacy on Iran, and offer more generous sanctions relief in exchange for greater Iranian transparency and monitoring.

However, if a 20% deal can’t be reached in the next few months, and if Iran continues to grow its 20% stockpile, President Obama is likely to come under increasing  pressure to demonstrate to Iran that the threat of force is credible.

Columbia University scholar Robert Jervis, who analyzed coercive diplomacy options in the current issue of Foreign Affairs, said while negotiating with Iran is incredibly difficult, there are some grounds to believe an interim nuclear deal is achievable.

“What we want from the Iranians is what they say they want,” Jervis told the Back Channel in an interview Friday. “The Iranian say, ‘we do not want a bomb.’  And what we say is… we want assurances, openness and assurances” that Iran is not producing a bomb.

“It’s not Jerusalem,” he added, referring to both sides in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute holding positions that are hard to reconcile with the other. Continue reading

New US National Intelligence Officer for Iran: Rachel Ingber

The new U.S. National Intelligence Officer for Iran is Rachel Ingber.

Ingber takes over from Jillian Burns, who has moved to Afghanistan to become the new U.S. Consul-General in Herat.

Ingber most recently served as a senior US government Middle East analyst. Earlier in her career, in 1997, she served as a research intern at the Washington Institute for Near East  Policy, and compiled an Iran Research Guide at Columbia University. (Little of her recent writing seems to be available on the Internet.)

“As a member of the National Intelligence Council, the NIO/Iran will oversee Intelligence Community wide production and coordination of the full range of analytic assessments on Iran including strategic analysis on Iran … and, as appropriate and required, more focused, time-sensitive analysis for the most senior decision makers,” the National Intelligence Council job posting for the NIO/Iran position said.

Among the job’s responsibilities, “Provide warning to policymakers on emerging issues that could portend major discontinuities or affect significant US interests and opportunities,” it continued. Ingber is expected to bring on a new deputy.