Talks in Baghdad on Iran’s nuclear program produced one area of agreement Thursday: The negotiations will resume next month in Moscow.
But considering Iran’s track record of obfuscation on its quest for a nuclear arsenal, it appears to be simply extending a delay game. Last month’s negotiations in Istanbul produced a similar result — the scheduling of this week’s talks in Baghdad.
In this replay, Iranian officials meeting with representatives of six major nations, including the United States, demanded that economic sanctions be lifted and that a looming U.S. and European embargo of Iranian oil abandoned. In exchange, the Iranians said, international inspectors would gain more access to their nation’s nuclear sites.
The negotiators for the U.S., Russia, Britain, France, China and Germany rightly balked at that pre-emptive retreat. After all, the current sanctions — and the threat of more to come — were all that brought Iran to the negotiating table in the first place.
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton gamely accentuated the positives after the talks ended Thursday, asserting that the scheduled resumption of negotiations on June 18 and 19 in Moscow makes it “clear that we both want to make progress, and that there is some common ground.” Still, she conceded that “significant differences remain.”
So, unfortunately, do significant concerns that Israel will launch air strikes aimed at derailing Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly — and understandably — emphasized that a nuclear-armed Iran would pose an intolerable menace to Israel.
Iran’s leaders have consistently hailed the goal of Israel’s destruction. In response, Mr. Netanyahu has consistently warned that Israel will take any action it deems necessary to counter the threat of Iran developing nuclear weapons.
Israeli officials panned the talks this week, pointing out that Iran has long bought time by pretending to negotiate while pressing forward with its nuclear program. Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak added that even if Iran grants inspectors more access to its nuclear facilities, Israel retains the air-strike option.
While Iranian leaders insist their nuclear program is designed only for generating electric power, ample evidence suggests otherwise. Iran is now producing uranium enriched at a level far above that needed for energy production. As The Associated Press put it Thursday, Western leaders fear the material Iran already has “can be turned into warhead grade in a matter of months.”
Clearly, it would be foolish to drop or even ease the economic sanctions merely on the basis of Iran’s dubious assurances of future access for inspectors. The international group must maintain that position when talks resume in Moscow.
And additional agreements to schedule future negotiations will not suffice.
A U.S. official said Thursday: “Every day we don’t figure this out is a day they keep going forward with a nuclear program. We still think we have some time for diplomacy, but it’s not indefinite.”
This, however, is definite: As the risk of Iran acquiring a nuclear arsenal rises, so does the risk of an Israeli military attack on Iran, with potentially devastating consequences in the Mideast, and beyond.