The Iranian proposal for all-round dialogue with the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany may be couched in vague and flowery language but it represents the best shot yet for the international community to resolve its outstanding concerns on the nuclear issue. Thanks to regime change in Washington (although not in Tehran), the United States is now officially open to the idea of a dialogue with Iran, something it has avoided for more than three decades. The Iranians too, still recouping from a bruising, divisive election, appear to have recognised the merit of engagement and discussion as a means of resolving their differences with the P5+1 as well as the U.S. For the upcoming dialogue to make any headway, however, several things need to be recognised by all the players concerned. Iran must be open and flexible and not unreasonable in the way it links issues. On its part, the U.S. must suspend its hostile and counter-productive rhetoric towards Iran — even if much of it is intended to appease a nuclear-weaponised Israel that is growing increasingly restive about the prospect of a dialogue process that might well leave Iran with its capabilities in the civil nuclear arena intact. Washington’s threat to impose a petroleum embargo on Iran is not worth much. Iran may lack refining capacity but with Russia and China unlikely to favour such a tightening of sanctions at the U.N. Security Council, the U.S. can at best hope for a unilateral sales embargo. Even that will be of limited consequence with friends of Iran like Venezuela promising to supply the Islamic Republic with gasoline.
The idea that only the threat of tighter sanctions can guarantee the success of the proposed dialogue is based on the flawed premise that Iran is solely to blame for the current impasse over the nuclear issue. The plain truth is that the most serious concerns flagged by the International Atomic Energy Agency about the Iranian nuclear programme in 2005 and 2006 have been satisfactorily resolved — thanks to Tehran’s cooperation with the IAEA. The only issue preventing the agency from giving Tehran a clean bill of (nuclear) health is the status of the alleged studies on weaponisation supposed to have been conducted. The IAEA concedes it is unable to confirm the authenticity of the documents given to it by western intelligence agencies, which remain the sole source of information about the alleged studies. Iran has called the documents forgeries, pointing out discrepancies in them such as the absence of security markings and official seals. The absence of any evidence of diversion of nuclear material means there is no present or imminent danger of an Iranian weapons programme emerging. The U.S. wasted time in delaying the inevitable. Now that talks are to be held, sincere efforts must be made by all concerned to ensure their success.