The ‘P5+1′ – Iran talks in Istanbul on Saturday ended on a manifestly positive note. Why it is so is a long story, but suffice to say, Washington sifted through the complicated signals from Tehran and concluded a window of opportunity could be open for negotiations. That these signals have come from the top level of the Iranian regime enhanced their credibility.
Only a cerebral president in the White house like Barack Obama could have taken such a bold step to engage Iran in a presidential election year in the US. The Israelis are hopping mad that Obama disdainfully rejected their path on Iran. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reappeared with some vicious criticism of Obama. BN’s insinuation is that Obama gave away too much by not insisting on a pre-condition that Iran should first stop all reprocessing activities.
But Obama has hit back at ‘Bibi’. What happens between now and May 23 when the talks resume in Baghdad will be anybody’s guess. Will the US backtrack and ‘harden’ its stance? Tehran is expected to take certain steps on the ground. But Tehran also expects ‘reciprocal’ steps. Bibi’s attack could be a pre-emptive move to tie down Obama from taking any ‘reciprocal’ steps.
Israel has a great deal to lose if the ‘P5+1′ – Iran talks gain traction. A US-Iran rapproachment unnerves Israel. (The Gulf monarchies are also nervous, but that’s another story.) The good thing is that Europeans want the peace track with Iran to continue. China is also supportive. Obama is adamant not to get drawn into any more wars.
On the other hand, there are imponderables in the prevailing acutely polarised political climate in the US. Fareed Zakaria takes an interesting perspective that Obama’s challenge is not so much to negotiate a deal with Iran as to get acceptability for it from the Republicans, who are on war path. The Tehran power structure seems far more cohesive, in comparison.
Meanwhile, Tehran has everything to gain by giving a positive spin to the talks. Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi has claimed that a common understanding was reached at the Istanbul talks.
Xinhua has carried a well-informed article with Beijing dateline, reproduced from the government-owned China Daily, on the range of compulsions — political, economic, strategic — working on Obama’s mind, which have prompted him to hold out the ‘olive branch’ to Tehran. The article’s empathy with Obama’s approach is striking. The article is here.
– April 16, 2012