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Friday, January 21, 2011

New Round of Talks with Iran; Is Iran at a Breaking Point?

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

Today Irani officials will meet with their US counterparts and other permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany. The last round of talks in December produced no binding statements or agreements except to meet again today. Moreover, after more than 30 years of sanctions Western diplomats and the public at large have been conditioned to have low expectations of any meaningful advancement.

In fact the policy of enforcing sanctions on countries over the past few decades has an extremely poor track record (think N. Korea, Cuba, or Iraq). This has led many commentators to begin theorizing about not how to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, but how to contain Iran once it inevitably has the ability to use such weapons.

Given my own low expectations of a breakthrough I have also given that thought, but it also must be acknowledged that if Iran were to acquire the technology and material capability to launch nukes it would create a strong possibility of igniting a nuclear arms race in the region. As if the Middle East is not volatile enough.

On a more optimistic note, there have been several promising signs that Iran is at a breaking point where it could be forced to confront economic, political, and military realities. Over the past month the state has been dealt several major setbacks and is coming to the table in a much weaker position than December.

The Stuxnet virus, apparently planted at a nuclear enrichment plant by deep undercover Israeli agents, has destroyed as much as 20% of Iran’s enriched uranium. This makes Iran look incredibly weak and may have bought the west several more years before the state has full nuclear capabilities. Also recently, Iran was forced to reduce massive fuel and food subsidies for the Iranian people. This is important for two reasons: one, it means the sanctions are working, and two, growing concern about food prices in the Middle East has led to protests that have rocked several states in the region. This directly feeds into the other major setback for Ian – the revolution in Tunisia. Pretty much all leaders in the region are extremely concerned about the current political climate, but Iran is more so because of these other compounding factors.

Of course these are all only possibilities, and given the history of diplomacy between the West and Iran there is not much to be optimistic about. But there is no doubt that Iran is closer to its breaking point than ever before; the only question is what happens after that.

Further Reading:
NY Times : Iran Talks Set to Resume

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