If you want to consider the Iran talks which opened again today in Vienna seriously, then it seems one must face a number of realities. None of them are good for the West or for Israel, and yet all of them seem likely to be the route these talks will go; certainly given the current tone and atmospherics. Given the extent of what else is exploding all around Iran and now in the Caucuses as well, there is little cause for a more optimistic scenario.
There is no way these talks will reach a serious conclusion within the agreed upon deadline. The talks will only really get serious as the six month window approaches, but at this time there are few optimistic signs of progress, only a considerable amount of posturing. The Iranians at this point appear to be unlikely to concede any of the major demands of the West, even assuming most of the inspection proceeds as accepted in November. The President will not be able to hold back the tighter sanction legislation before Congress very much longer than the six month window and it is totally unclear what good measures Iran could offer the U.S. –beyond more talks; something that would not even begin to persuade Congress to hold back on more sanctions. More sanctions will end negotiations.
For the U.S. the stakes are very high in terms of its dealings with Russia, Israel, and Saudi Arabia as well as all its European allies. Obama’s relations with Putin already present sufficient challenges in bi-lateral relations. The tension over Syria—both in the chemical gas removal as well as the non-ending violence–, as well as the explosive situation in the Ukraine have only intensified the lack of cordiality, external appearances notwithstanding. In dealing with Iran–which Putin may well not wish to become a nuclear power—the Russians have a more cavalier attitude, it appears, towards additional nuclear states. Russia has far more invested in its relationship with Iran (and Syria) than ultimately to try to stop Iran from gaining nuclear weapons.
Neither the Israelis nor the Saudis want a nuclear Iran. The Saudis themselves cannot stop it from happening and it seems more and it is more unlikely than ever that the Israelis will use force to prevent it. The U.S. will facilitate whatever its allies want in the way of intelligence and support, but without the engagement of any U.S. forces. At the end of the day Obama will accept a nuclear Iran despite the fact that he knows that there will be rapid nuclear proliferation throughout the region; in Turkey, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, for starters.
The only genuine hope for Washington would be if somehow sanctions produced economic dislocation in Iran genuinely would lead to an internal uprising; intelligence and cyber-technology will substitute for boots on the ground and overturn or disable the nuclear program; or both Iraq and Syria will suddenly totally distract the Rouhani regime from its fixation on becoming a member of the nuclear club.