Time for diplomacy is running out in Iran

Time for diplomacy is running out in Iran

The Middle East still dominates the international agenda. Though the Syrian crisis has caught all the attention recently, Iran cannot be ignored much longer. While it is preparing for yet another pre-elected presidential election on June 14, the P5+1 countries, consisting of the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany, are still trying to find a diplomatic solution to the Iranian uranium enrichment program. The latest talks, held in Kazakhstan last month, failed again due to a wide gap between the positions of the parties.

Despite the heavy economic sanctions and simultaneous negotiation process, Iran has not suspended its nuclear program and made steady progress. According to the latest International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report, Iran has increased its stock of low-enriched uranium, enriched up to 5 percent, to 8,960 kilograms by adding 689 kilograms since the previous report on Feb. 21, 2013. It also added 44 kilograms to its stock of middle-enriched uranium, enriched up to 20 percent, since then. The other findings of the report also show that Iran continues its nuclear program with a determination to see it through despite U.S. President Obama’s “all options on the table” policy. The perception of the U.S. policy options in Tehran clearly indicates that the U.S. is not keen on intervening and would try to keep the diplomatic track open until the last moment. But the point of no return possibly coming to pass unannounced is a worry increasingly aired in Western capitals, and frequently by the Israelis.

There was much speculation among the Iran pundits on the possibility of moderates returning to power, thus opening the possibility of change on Iranian policy especially on the nuclear program. However, developments in Iran clearly gravitate toward the other end. The Guardian Council, the supreme body that vets all the candidates before any election, barred two prominent alternatives from running in the presidential election.

Although coming from within Iran’s religiously conservative camp, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president and the most popular candidate for the West, was able to position himself as a “moderate.” He supported the Green Movement and the protests against the disputed presidential elections in 2009, during which he endorsed reformist candidates against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Obviously, he was seen as too much of a challenge to the authority of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei.

Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, President Ahmadinejad’s preferred candidate and top aide, was also barred. His problem stems from his close ties with Ahmadinejad and his nationalist political approach rather than religious one. Meshaei, while conservative, was seen as a “pragmatist” who might be willing to pursue political reforms and reconciliation with the West.

Another prominent figure from the reformist camp, Mir Hossein Mousavi, who led the protests after the 2009 election, remains under house arrest and was not even allowed to register as a candidate. Six of the eight candidates approved by the Guardian Council from among the 686 registered, are Khamanei loyalists. The remaining two with some moderate views, Mohammed Reza Aref and Hasan Rouhani, have lower chances of election. In short, the supreme leader will win the election and the prospect for a change in Iran in the near future is dim.

The heavy sanctions do not solve anything, as the suffering Iranians do not have any influence over their regime, and the hesitancy of the U.S. for military intervention reduces the credibility of the threat to use force. The risk now is that one day we might wake up to the news of Iran’s successful experiment with the atomic bomb, or else an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities. Both are recipes for a doomsday scenario in the Middle East.