Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
Negotiations between parties always have as their first goal to assure that if the matter is not resolved there will a date set to resume negotiations. Unfortunately, that appears all that has emerged out of round two of the talks just concluded in Bagdad between Iran and the P5+1 states over the continuing Iranian nuclear program. With a third set of meetings now set for June in Moscow, certainly the West came away with little evidence that Iran was prepared to grant unconditional and unrestricted international inspection or an agreement to reduce their intended level of uranium enrichment. (In fact, according to some reports Iran may be seeking to increase its enrichment level above the already achieved 20%, putting them clearly at the level approaching weapons grade.) While the matter of timing and precise progress remains unknown, the optimism which preceded this second round of talks was clearly illusory, while the results affirmed the expectations of the pessimists.
The meetings, however, did produce some interesting indirect and public dynamics by the parties. Iran saw for the first time that the “give us something for permitting inspection”–such as postponement of the enactment of July sanctions–was a total non-starter; although Iran still has the June talks to try to manipulate this one more time. Iran also saw a clear sense of unified purpose which must have taken them by surprise. While China and Russia may be weak links in this front, they were not balking here. The U.S. dispatching of its chief negotiator, Wendy Sherman, to Israel after the sessions ended on Thursday, also should have indicated to both Israel and Iran that Israeli concerns and interests (as well as Saudi and Turkish interests) were certainly present in the meetings.
It is also worth noting that the end of the meeting did not produce any bellicose statements or challenges, although that may occur should the two day meeting in Moscow also end with no progress on the eve of the imposition of the new sanctions. There was a sense that this was either really the calm before a major storm or that indeed Iran is looking for a face-saving way to back down from the confrontation.
From the Israeli perspective, there appears to continue to be commentary, but at the same time there is a lull in active saber rattling. Much analysis continues as to how the expanded coalition will move or modify its approach. The most interesting discussion emerged concerning how the internal chemistry among Barak, Mofaz, and Netanyahu will evolve.
According to the conclusion of a well developed paper by David Makovsky from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, the Israelis will not let the talks drag on forever, but the new security cabinet seems clearly to have moved the Israeli option to third place after diplomacy and the a U.S. driven attack. This also may explain why the chemistry between the Obama Administration and Israel appears at the moment to be somewhat improved and why Bibi has been quieter of late.