TROPHY: Iranians walk past a replica of a captured U.S. drone on display next to the Azadi (Freedom) Tower during celebrations of the 33rd anniversary of the Islamic Revolution in Tehran on February 11 (XINHUA/AFP)
After a nearly 15-month hiatus, delegates from Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council—the United States, Russia, the UK, France and China—plus Germany (P5+1) finally resumed talks in Istanbul on April 14. They reached an agreement to start a new round of high-level meetings on nuclear issues in Baghdad on May 23.
All parties showed sincerity at the Istanbul meeting. Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, speaking for the P5+1, said after the meeting that all six parties were satisfied with the "constructive and useful" atmosphere.
Saeed Jalili, head of the Iranian delegation, praised the "desire of the other side for dialogue and cooperation" and said "we consider that as a positive sign."
The meeting was a good beginning for the follow-up talks. But since discord and hostilities between the United States and Iran are deep-rooted, it is impossible to build mutual trust and resolve Iran's nuclear issue in the short run. The threat of potential military strikes by the United States and Israel still looms over Iran.
Iran has been a thorn in the side of the United States since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. As an implacable anti-U.S. force in the Middle East, Iran hinders the U.S. strategy in this region. The United States has long wished to topple the current Iranian regime. The U.S. military often threatens to launch an attack on Iran. For example, three U.S. aircraft carriers were sent to waters near the Gulf to display muscle to Iran in early 2012.
Washington has laid two red lines for Tehran: developing nuclear weapons is intolerable, and blocking the Hormuz Strait is unacceptable. If Iran crosses either line, the United States is bound to make a strong response.
The Iranian nuclear issue, however, has never threatened the leading global position of the United States. There are too many troubles around the world for the United States. It is impossible for it to get rid of all troubles. Furthermore, Iran has kept itself cautiously away from the red lines. Given its shift of focus to the Asia-Pacific region, the United States is not willing to get bogged down in another war in Iran after its withdrawal from Iraq.
Despite the accumulated rancor for decades, the Iranian nuclear issue might not be completely harmful to U.S. strategic interests in the Middle East and beyond.
Since 2009, the United States has quickened its deployment of a missile defense system in the Gulf region. Five Arab countries—Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Kuwait—have agreed to accept the land-based PAC-3 missile defense system. The United States and its allies have formed an arc-shaped net around Iran. This year, in collaboration with the member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council, the United States began to deploy a ballistic missile defense system in the region as part of its global defense network.
The United States has divided the Islamic world by making use of the Iranian nuclear issue. Due to the alleged Iranian threat, other Gulf countries have increasingly looked to the United States for protection. In return, these countries would not hesitate to follow U.S. policies on many issues.
Tehran's nuclear program has not only aggravated neighboring countries' fear of Iran but also stimulated their demand for weapons. These countries purchase large quantities of weapons from the United States every year. According to statistics released by the Center for Analysis of World Arms Trade, a Moscow-based research institute, in February, the overall contract sum of arms imported in the world market in 2011 reached $80.225 billion. Saudi Arabia ranked highest among buyers. It spent $32.2 billion on weapons last year, accounting for 40.14 percent of global contracts. Noticeably, Saudi Arabia signed a huge contract worth $29.6 billion with the United States to buy F-15 fighters. Another Arab country, the United Arab Emirates, ranked third with $4.962 billion, accounting for 6.18 percent of the world's arms trade.
Nevertheless, Iran "is not yet building a bomb," U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said on the CBS television's Face the Nation on January 8. All sanctions aim to "persuade Tehran not to take that step."