Two days of talks in Iraq between Iran and the permanent five members of the U.N. Security Council—the United States, the United Kingdom, France, China, and Russia—plus Germany (also known as the P5+1) produced only an agreement to meet again for more talks in Moscow in mid-June. EU foreign policy head Catherine Ashton issued a statement noting “significant differences remain” between Iran and the P5+1 despite a mutual desire for progress and “some common ground.”
But while the Baghdad talks failed to produce an agreement to ensure Iran lives up to its nuclear responsibilities, they also kept the negotiation process alive. And the United States and the rest of the P5+1 can prepare for next month’s talks in Moscow with the knowledge that Iran will come under significant pressure to avoid the sanctions it will face if no agreement is reached.
It shouldn’t be surprising that the Baghdad talks failed to produce anything more than an agreement to continue talks in a few weeks. Iranian negotiators reportedly wanted an agreement to postpone American and EU sanctions on Iranian financial institutions and oil exports scheduled to go into effect at the end of July in exchange for concessions on its uranium enrichment efforts. The suspension of these upcoming sanctions were not included as part of the P5+1’s offer to Iran.
U.S. sanctions targeting Iran’s Central Bank will go into effect on June 28, while an EU embargo on Iranian oil will start on July 1. The imminent imposition of this harsh set of international economic restrictions on Iran’s central financial institution and major export serves to heighten the pressure on the Iranian regime to strike a deal with the P5+1 addressing international concerns about its nuclear program. Should the talks in Moscow fail to produce an agreement acceptable to the P5+1, Iran will face severe economic consequences.
As a result, in the next round of talks, Iran’s interests will be more to come to an agreement that averts the implementation of sanctions than in stalling talks. Tehran’s clock to avoid sanctions is now moving faster than its nuclear program is progressing, giving the P5+1 greater negotiating leverage as it seeks to bring international accountability to Iran’s nuclear efforts.
Between now and the next round of talks, the United States should strive to maintain unity among the P5+1. This task should be less difficult given reports from International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors that Iran has apparently enriched uranium above the 20 percent levels it has claimed. The Obama administration should also consult and coordinate closely with regional allies like Israel, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia. Chief U.S. nuclear negotiator Wendy Sherman has already traveled to Tel Aviv to update Israeli officials on the Baghdad talks.
Overall, the United States should strive to construct as united a diplomatic front as possible to face Iran during the next round of talks in Moscow.