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The Iran "Talks" - Just Another US vs Russia (And China) Power Game

In what has been the world's longest negotiation (we are only modestly joking: the Iran P5+1 nuclear "talks" started in 2013 and have yet to achieve anything) one whose "rolling deadline" has been breached time and time again, it appears that with today's latest deadline just hours away, the most likely outcome is another deadline extension even though, as Reuters puts it, "Iran and six world powers ramped up the pace on Tuesday in negotiations over a preliminary deal on Tehran's nuclear program, while officials cautioned that any agreement would likely be fragile and incomplete."

The negotiations, which we have largely ignored covering as the past has abundantly shown that nothing ever actually gets done except for a lot of talking, posturing, gesticulating and pizza-ordering, have seen the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China trying to break an impasse in the talks, which are aimed at stopping Iran from gaining the capacity to develop a nuclear bomb in exchange for easing international sanctions that are crippling its economy.

As a reminder, it is the "threat" of an amicable resolution and a resumption in Iran oil exports that has been presented as the cause for oil's most recent weakness.

According to the conventional narrative "disagreements on enrichment research and the pace of lifting sanctions threatened to scupper a deal that could end a 12-year standoff between Iran and the West over Tehran's nuclear ambitions and reduce the risk of another Middle East war."

"The two sticking points are the duration and the lifting of sanctions," an Iranian official said. "The two sides are arguing about the content of the text. Generally progress has been made."

 

They said the main sticking points remain the removal of U.N. sanctions and Iranian demands for the right to unfettered research and development into advanced nuclear centrifuges after the first 10 years of the agreement expires.

 

Iran said the key issue was lifting sanctions quickly.

 

"There will be no agreement if the sanctions issue cannot be resolved," Majid Takhteravanchi, an Iranian negotiator, told Iran's Fars news agency. "This issue is very important for us."

 

The six powers want more than a 10-year suspension of Iran's most sensitive nuclear work. Tehran, which denies it is trying to develop a nuclear weapons capability, demands a swift end to sanctions in exchange for temporary limits on its atomic activities.

Not surprisingly, "officials played down expectations for the talks in the Swiss city of Lausanne."

For days they have been trying to agree on a brief document of several pages outlining key headline numbers to form the basis of a future agreement. Officials said they hoped to be able to announce something, though one Western diplomat said it would be "incomplete and kick some issues down the road".

 

Negotiations among the parties on sticking points went into the night and continued on Tuesday. They were expected to run late and possibly into Wednesday. Officials said they were hoping to agree on some kind of declaration, while any actual preliminary understanding that is agreed might remain confidential.

 

It was also possible they would not agree on anything.

And sure enough, with the specter of yet another extension, the talking down of expectations (it snowed in Lausanne) begins:

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier canceled plans to go to Berlin for a French-German summit on Tuesday. "The negotiations are at a critical and difficult phase, making the presence of both ministers in Lausanne essential," a German government source said. 

 

The real deadline in the talks, Western and Iranian officials said, is not Tuesday but June 30.

 

They said the main sticking points remain the removal of U.N. sanctions and Iranian demands for the right to unfettered research and development into advanced nuclear centrifuges after the first 10 years of the agreement expires.

But is that really the case? After all, if all superpowers press Iran, the middle east country will have no choice. According to Iran's own IRNA news agency there is much more to this story than what the conventional narrative presents, and it once again all boils down to a well-known tension in modern geopolitics: the US and the West vs the rising Russia-China axis.

From IRNA:

The United States and Europe reportedly want the UN Security Council (UNSC) sanctions on Iran to be automatically reversible, meaning that if Iran violates the deal at any point, the UNSC sanctions will automatically be re-imposed on Tehran.

 

Russia opposes such a scenario, saying in such a case the UNSC should decide what to do. Moscow says automatic imposition of sanctions goes against the mechanism of the Security Council.

 

China also reportedly shares Russia’s viewpoint and is against the imposition of automatically reversible sanctions on Iran.

 

The final stage of the ongoing talks between Iran and the P5+1 countries - the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China plus Germany - in Lausanne is expected to continue until Tuesday, which was set as a deadline for reaching mutual understanding in the negotiations.

And there you have it: the reason why the Iran talks have dragged on more than two years, and specifically since the February 2013 "interim agreement", is not because of Iran's intransigence (which could have been resolved overnight with a few Swiss bank accounts opened under strategic Iranian personnel's names or a few NYC duplex apartments), but because this, too, has become one global theater of realpolitik, one in which the fate of Iran's sanctions is no longer in the hands of Iran, but a function of the power play between West and East.

Keep a very close eye on who prevails, assuming there is a deal, because if the US loses the upper hand, that will certainly explain why two weeks ago US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew was heard complaining that "US International Credibility & Influence Is Being Threatened"...