With a sandstorm swirling around them and closing the airport, the six-party talks with Iran in Baghdad had every incentive to get a peace process worth talking about back on track.
The Iranian negotiators talked extensively about their rights to a full fuel cycle under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) but not about specifics. A full nuclear fuel cycle can be achieved with levels of enrichment well below the danger level of 20pc, which is what their centrifuges buried under a mountain in Fordow are designed to achieve. The US and European members of the six-party talks refused for their part to offer Iran a real incentive for abandoning enrichment to 20pc, a short technical hop to highly enriched uranium that can be weaponised. Dangling modest relief from technology restrictions, such as aircraft parts, fall well short of the bargaining price. And whatever Iran agrees to, foreign financial firms who continue to deal with Iran’s central bank after 28 June will be blocked from US markets, and an EU embargo on Iranian crude starts shortly after on 1 July. So where is the incentive for Iran to trade?
This is the problem with the sanctions. They have to be liftable and or least delayable. Given all the problems surrounding oil tankers and their insurance, a six-month delay is not too difficult to achieve. Sanctions relief has to be part of the negotiations if they are to work as a lever, rather than as a spanner in the works. The hope that something can be salvaged in Moscow was still there in the closing statement by Cathy Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief, but she did not disguise the fact that significant problems remained. Although the two sides were at last talking about the substance of the issue – Iran’s nuclear programme – the process was still bumping along the bottom. Both sides have decisions to make. Iran has to address concerns by the IAEA over the extent to which it conducted research on weaponisation. If progress is achieved, the conditions could be laid for a breakthrough in Moscow. But the US and the EU have also got to be mindful of Iranian psychology. The regime needs a deal they can present as a victory, not a national humiliation. If the ending of medium-enriched uranium is the goal, it is one worth spending time on. It will not be achieved by Iran looking down the barrel of a gun.