As I write, the P5 +1 (That’s the USA, Russia, China, the UK, France plus Germany) are meeting in Baghdad with diplomats from Iran to explore a potential agreement over Iran’s nuclear program. From what we know in press reports, the deal on the table would have Iran stop its uranium enrichment program, and instead outside suppliers would provide Iran with lower enriched uranium necessary for power production, but not useful for weapons. If Iran accepts, there will be some confidence building measures, leading potentially to the loosening some sanctions down the road. There are a few ins and outs, but that’s the crux of what the USA and others see as a near term diplomatic solution to this crisis.
The stakes are high. The alternatives to the diplomatic route: do nothing or bomb Iran are not really options at all.
For one, nuclear proliferation is an inherently dangerous thing — no matter who does the proliferating. If Iran develops and tests a nuclear weapon, it may inspire other countries in the region to get their own bomb. A nuclear-armed Saudi Arabia does not exactly strike me as promoting global peace and security.
On the other hand, a US or Israeli strike against Iranian nuclear sites (which military officials agree would probably not even be effective) could provoke a wider regional battle. No really knows what could happen next. But Iran would almost certainly hit back, possibly “asymmetrically” (i.e. tapping into terrorist networks). An already volatile region would be thrust deeper into instability and insecurity.
So, that leaves the only option of diplomacy, which is why the stakes are so high in Baghdad. On a conference call yesterday, two experts: former UN Ambassador Thomas Pickering and Vali Nasr expressed some guarded optimism for this latest round of talks. Both see a window of opportunity now for the outlines of an agreement to take hold. Let’s hope they are correct–the consequences of diplomatic failure are too great.