The only thing that seems certain after talks fell apart between Iran and the U.S., France, Germany, Russia, Britain and China is confusion.
Many blamed the French for scuttling a deal. The Iranian foreign minister seemed to confirm that view with a statement on Facebook, while French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius made statements about the need to avoid a “sucker’s deal” and said it was necessary to consider Israel’s security concerns.
But then U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry held a news conference and said it was Iran, not France, that walked away from the deal, and that this was because Iran wouldn’t give in to demands that it cease enriching uranium to 20 percent.
Either way, the one clear message is that the sides remain divided over the issue of processes that lead to the construction of nuclear weapons. Without significant concessions by the Iranians on that issue, there should be no deal.
Another clear message is that Israel is extremely agitated about the prospect of a negotiated deal with Iran, and that the talks appear to be seen as another rift in deteriorating relations between the U.S. and Israel.
Since the election of Iran’s more moderate president, Hassan Rouhani, the West has been hopeful that progress might finally gain a foothold. For its part, Iran has been suffering from the effects of prolonged economic sanctions, and many of its people seem anxious for the chance at a more prosperous economy.
It is worth noting that the mere existence of talks with Iran is a hopeful sign. Generally, nations enter talks with the expectation of an agreement. Still, France and Israel, despite their bellicosity, have the right attitude.
Iran’s ruling regime must demonstrate real and verifiable steps away from a nuclear program before the United States agrees to any deal. The “sucker’s deal” France referenced would involve anything that constitutes a half step or allows Iran to buy time while it arms itself.
Critics here and abroad who cite Israel’s nuclear capabilities as evidence of hypocrisy on the part of the West miss the point. Israel is a democratic state in a dangerous neighborhood controlled by thugs and dictators. Iran has, in the past, called for the destruction of Israel. Without a profound regime change in Iran, Israel has every reason to suspect that policy is little changed.
The Iranian people, on the other hand, seem anxious for peace. A CNN report this week spoke of the gloom in Tehran following the failed attempt to reach an agreement. Average Iranians seem to long for a more normal place in the community of nations. However, they have little real influence on their leaders.
Meanwhile, talks are scheduled to resume Nov. 20. The U.S. should insist that any deal must call for Iran to abandon its intentions to pursue nuclear weapons in well-defined steps that, if ignored, would allow all other parties to dissolve their obligations and reinstate sanctions.
This is important not just to preserve relations with Israel, although that is important, but for the safety of the world.