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Cover Stories Series 2013> New Man for Iran> Archive
UPDATED: February 12, 2011 NO. 7 FEBRUARY 17, 2011
Fruitless Nuclear Talks
Both Iran and the United States choose to play hardball on the nuclear issue


ADVANCING TECHNOLOGY: Workers inside Iran's Bushehr Nuclear Power Plant on October 26, 2010 (XINHUA) 

Iran has calculated once the United States leaves Iraq, Iran will become a leading regional power and it will have mastery of the whole situation. Washington will have no other option but to work on Iran's terms and Iran is waiting for the best offer.

The new rounds of sanctions didn't work as Washington expected. These sanctions did hurt Iran's oil, banking and financial systems, but they didn't directly affect the livelihoods of the Iranian people. The Mahmoud Ahmadinejad government even reformed Iran's subsidy policy, canceling the oil, food, water and power subsidies that Iranian families had enjoyed for decades. Still, there was no turbulence in Iran and this stable domestic situation added to Iran's negotiating power.

Prior to the Istanbul negotiations, Iran invited representatives from many non-Western countries to visit its nuclear facilities. The Iranian military announced it shot down two unmanned U.S. planes. It also performed a surface-to-air missile test. Iran then set preconditions that Washington could not possibly accept, and the negotiations inevitably failed.

Future options

In light of the fruitless negotiations, the United States may push for a fifth round of international sanctions against Iran, which will make the possibility of settling the nuclear issue even more faint. Fortunately, neither side shut the door completely. After the Istanbul negotiations, Ashton said the offer is still on the table and the negotiation door is still open. Iranian President Ahmadinejad also confirmed Iran is willing to continue negotiations in the future.

The core of the Iranian nuclear issue lies in the hostility between Washington and Tehran. The United States has treated Iran as a hostile country since Iran's Islamic Revolution in 1979, and has tried to change the current Iranian regime. Iran also considers the United States its biggest security threat, and intends to eliminate the U.S. impact on the Gulf region and the Middle East.

When the nuclear issue emerged in 2003, Washington was concerned a nuclear-armed Iran may threaten U.S. interests in the Middle East. So it attempted to topple the Iranian regime with an international show of strength, united by non-proliferation. In the meantime, Iran has tried to use the nuclear issue to force Washington into compromise.

It will be tough to solve the Iran nuclear issue within a short time, because it is not possible to reverse Iran's determination to pursue its nuclear plan. Inside Iran, the issue is now completely politicized, leaving the government no leeway.

The United States will not tolerate an Iranian challenge to its Middle East supremacy. A strong Iran is a "legacy" of the George W. Bush administration. Since changing the attitude toward Iran is not in accordance with U.S. policy, the Obama administration continued to adopt a hard-line policy on Iran.

The Obama administration took an even tougher stance after the midterm elections, due to a strong neo-conservative political influence. There is also a sizeable anti-Iran presence in the United States. However, it would be difficult for Washington to decide on military action. Neither war nor peace is appropriate in this situation and the result could be a long-term cold war between the nations.

Washington may launch more economic sanctions against Iran, hoping that either internal conflict will overthrow the current Iranian regime, or Iranian leadership will change its policies toward the United States. Moreover, the United States will seek to cooperate with Israel to destroy Iran's nuclear plan. Iran, however, will try to complete its nuclear plan as early as possible while coping with sanctions and negotiating with the United States.

There is also a possibility for the United States and Israel to launch a joint strike against Iran if they feel Iran is about to develop a nuclear weapon.

The author is a former Chinese ambassador to Iran

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