It’s probably too much to hope that talks between the United States and Iran might resume in a positive direction any time soon, given the exigencies of the 2012 election and Iran’s seemingly frozen internal politics. But the latest statements from Iran about its nuclear research program are a good sign.
Fereydoun Abbasi, the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, this weekend offered to allow “full supervision” of the program by the UN and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for five years in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. “By lifting the UN sanctions...the International Atomic Energy Agency can have full supervision over Iran's nuclear work for five years.” What, exactly, he meant by “full supervision” isn’t clear, but it’s long been a demand of the world community for Iran to accede to the IAEA’s additional protocol for oversight of Iran’s activity.
As the New York Times points out:
“The spotty nature of Iran’s responses explains why the phrase ‘full supervision’ is so important to United Nations inspectors and the group of Western allies who have been the most vigorous in enforcing the sanctions. If it means that inspectors could visit all the sites on their list, interview scientists who are believed to be linked to military work and review the documents that Iran has declined to turn over, it would mark a significant breakthrough.”
Let’s see if the Obama administration responds to Iran’s comments by saying anything like that it might “mark a significant breakthrough.”
Unfortunately, lifting sanctions in exchange for a deal with Iran might be next to impossible. Hawks and neoconservatives have explicitly ruled out lifting sanctions even if Iran abandons its nuclear program, insisting that Iran’s alleged support for terrorism—i.e., its backing for Hamas and Hezbollah, its spurious ties to Al Qaeda and its support for anti-US forces in Iraq—mean that sanctions ought to continue indefinitely. In addition, by layering next-to-useless sanctions on Iran for human rights violations since the 2009 presidential election the United States has stupidly complicated the sanctions issue, since it would be ahrd to remove economic sanctions and leave human rights sanctions in place. The sanctions imposed by the United Nations Security Council, in four rounds, have nothing at all to do with terrorism or human rights, and they relate only, repeat only, to Iran’s ncuelar program. So if Iran were to move toward a real deal over its nuclear program, the United States might find itself complegtely isolated at the UN. That would force President Obama to use the American veto to block a resolution lifting sanctions. So, in the end, it will take a firm US-Iran deal in place to make this work, along with a promise from Washington to lift sanctions.