Talking Iran at the UNSC Table
We've heard from a series of international diplomats that the drafting of the next UN Security Council sanctions resolution on Iran is now slated to begin in September. That's a delay of roughly sixty days, despite no hint of a breakthrough in negotiations on the Iranian nuclear program. There are a few reasons. First, Iran's "transparency" initiative, while so far only reopening a site for inspections that was closed several months ago, and refusing to provide broad access to Iranian nuclear program, is a sign nonetheless of forward progress. Russia and China have privately expressed their desire to give the Iranians the opportunity to offer further concessions. In addition, the Europeans want to give the Iranian-U.S. talks on Iraq (the second round of which occurred last week) a chance to work. But adding to both of these points, the Bush Administration is so focused on their September Iraq deadline that they have to hold off to have the operational bandwidth for any serious Iran push.
The effective time-out doesn't create much room for progress. The latest best offer-the "double freeze" option (no new centrifuge installation for no new sanctions) -was informally floated by the Europeans as a way to start more serious nuclear talks. But the Iranians have no intention of halting production, at least not until they have sufficient centrifuges constructed and operational, at which point construction (but not enrichment) can be suspended. So that option is a non-starter.
Meanwhile, direct U.S. diplomatic efforts with Iran are going to be very tough going. This last round of bilateral meetings on Iraq was delayed by the Bush Administration after unhappiness with Tehran's continued provision of arms to Shi‘a militants there. (Bush officials publicly criticized the Iranian government on the issue following the meetings.) Tehran, for its part, supports the present Maliki government but has no interest in helping the United States. Any agreement on Iraq would only be feasible with a willingness to bend on the nuclear issue-in this case a non-starter for the United States (and the Europeans). The idea of creating a standing subcommittee to focus on Iraqi security has more to do with the Bush Administration's wanting to cover every avenue on the Iraq front than to shift their policies on Iran. And while they may well morph into a more regular U.S.-Iran diplomatic channel (which has been called for by both parties in congress), there's still essentially no chance of an agreement between the two sides.
Instead, we'll see the next IAEA report scheduled for late August. Without Iran suspending enrichment, the report will play into the hands of the next UN Security Council resolution, by a considerable margin the toughest we've seen thus far, which I expect will proceed in September.
Ian Bremmer, president of the Eurasia Group, is also a contributing editor to The National Interest.