The negotiations over the last two days in Baghdad between Iran and the 5+1 group of countries received a positive spin, but which then quickly retreated. It seemed the issue revolved around the West’s proposal that Tehran reduce uranium enrichment from 20 percent to 5.3 percent. The Iranians considered this a victory and a setback to the Western countries from their earlier conditions that enrichment be halted completely, as a prelude to international monitoring of its enrichment operations. This came in conjunction with the idea of completing the largest portion of the process outside Iran – in Russia, for example – to guarantee the monitoring role of the International Atomic Energy Agency with regard to Iran’s nuclear program, and its peaceful nature.
Tehran considers the proposal a victory because it acknowledges its right to enrichment in principle, a right that will be not relinquished at a later date. Increasing the uranium enrichment level in the last two years, while negotiations between Iran and Western countries had been frozen, was skillfully exploited by Tehran. This has now become the basis for negotiations- instead of the negotiations centering on Iran’s abandoning enrichment.
However, the talks, if they were based on what Tehran has now gained as an acquired right, will prompt Western countries in turn to launch negotiations based on another reality, namely economic, financial and oil sanctions that they had imposed on the Islamic Republic. Tehran’s demand that sanctions be abolished as a condition for resuming negotiations is no longer feasible, unless there is a partial lifting of these sanctions with a specific response by Tehran to the Western demand for a reduction of the level of uranium enrichment.
The option of tightening sanctions arose as an alternative to the option of war for the administration of U.S. President Barack Obama, in a bid to create a new reality in the balance of power with Iran. Such a war would involve a steep cost, while the American public totally rejects such a scenario, as it is still recovering from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Perhaps the West’s option of peaceful confrontation with Tehran has strengthened the theory in Washington that holds that an economic blockade will be more effective, even if Iran gains military nuclear capabilities. This is because Iran will be forced to spend more money on protecting this achievement in military terms, and because this achievement will remain ineffective if it is not accompanied by an enhancement of the missiles and ground and air defense. All this involves exorbitant costs, which will have an impact on the Iranian economy, compounding the effect of sanctions. Furthermore, matters could go as far as the possibility of the collapse of the Iranian economy, and of the political formula that currently governs Iran.
Whether or not this theory holds water, the West’s responsiveness to the demand that sanctions be reduced, as part of confidence-building measures, assumes one of two things. Either an agreement has truly become possible, satisfying the Iranians, who have begun to suffer increasingly from the impact of sanctions on their daily lives. Or, this will take the West back to the military option, if the Western offers fail to make the Iranian position flexible by relying on sanctions alone.
As we await the outcome, and supposing that the Baghdad talks might be resumed later on to prevent the declaration that they have failed, it is difficult to see them continue in this positive direction, if they fail to tackle a reduction in ‘enrichment levels’ in another areas. This means Iran's reduction of the level of its regional hegemony, which has grown in recent months, beginning with the visit by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Abu Musa Island, and an escalation vis-à-vis the countries of the Gulf, particularly Bahrain, and the possibility of its union with Saudi Arabia. It was followed by the return to blatant intervention in Yemen, and the insistence on retaining power in Lebanon and Iraq, whatever the cost. Finally, Iran has been doing everything in its power to ensure the survival of the Syrian regime. Thus, this type of "enrichment" of Iran's regional hegemony should be on the negotiation table with the 5+1 countries.Three days ago, the advisor to Iran's Supreme Leader said "Iran has influence in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Afghanistan and the Islamic world… no political, economic or security measures can be taken without it, and everyone who wants to import energy supplies from the region must be in agreement with Iran.'
Does the "enrichment" of this hegemony in recent months aim at retaining it at a high level, while reducing its level of uranium enrichment, or is the goal one of negotiating over reducing the level of its regional hegemony in parallel with a reduction of the level of uranium enrichment?
Even if the Baghdad negotiations resume later on, they will require a considerable amount of time before the any possible positive development takes shape in terms of the regional situation. Until this becomes clear, the maneuvers that have accompanied the negotiations will mean that stability in a number of countries remains a pending issue.