The main beneficiary from Saturday’s talks over Iran’s nuclear program is Tehran itself.
The agreement to hold further talks in Baghdad in late May provides Iran with more valuable time to upgrade its air defence systems for what many see as the inevitable outcome of the current impasse: Western air strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
The fact that they haven’t occurred yet is in itself just sheer good fortune.
Late last month secret Israeli plans to launch air strikes on Tehran were effectively ruined after US officials revealed that Israel had “bought an airfield” in neighboring Azerbaijan. The airfield would have been used to launch air strikes on Iran, which is a relatively short distance across the Caspian Sea.
Having been alerted to Israel’s secret plans, Iran was able to take countermeasures and buy itself a little extra time.
If U.S. officials had not revealed Israel’s secret plans we would probably be only a matter of weeks away from conflict with Iran. As things stand we have another month, at least. Maybe more.
Although officials are upbeat publicly over the talks, they stress that the impasse is far from resolved.
“While the atmosphere today was positive and good enough to merit a second round, we continue to stress … that there is urgency for concrete progress and that the window for a diplomatic resolution is closing,” said one senior U.S. official.
Nonetheless, the resumption of talks over Tehran’s nuclear program hasn’t entirely silenced the more hawkish voices in the U.S. and Israel who maintain that Iran is simply using them to buy time.
Over the past year there has been much speculation over an Israeli pre-emptive strike on Iran. The fact that threat has been removed, if only temporarily, means that while the talks continue a Western military strike is unlikely, further fuelling the argument that Iran is simply using the talks to buy itself more time.
Not everyone views the talks so cynically however.
According to one Western participant in Saturday’s talks, Iran’s stance was markedly different yesterday from its position during previous meetings early last year: “We spent the whole day discussing the nuclear issue.”
Previously, when questions were raised over a secret weapons programme the Iranians “would have walked away”, he said. Now however, although negotiators were not “overly optimistic” there was a “seriousness to discuss the nuclear issue”.
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, leading the Russian delegation, told Interfax news agency: “The atmosphere is constructive, the conversation is businesslike.”