Published in the Lobe Log
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By Laicie Heeley and Usha Sahay
After months of deliberation, Iranian negotiators and representatives of the 6-world power P5+1 negotiating team have agreed to meet on February 26 in Almaty, Kazakhstan. Hopeful watchers may read some symbolism into the location: Kazakhstan is one of the few nations to have voluntarily given up nuclear weapons, and no doubt Western negotiators hope for a similar outcome with Iran’s controversial nuclear activities. Previous negotiations with Iran fell apart in the summer of 2012, and the question on everyone’s mind is: will this time be different?
There’s reason to hope that it will. Certainly, some circumstances have shifted in ways that could be favorable to a deal. Most obviously, the squeeze of sanctions has made it much more difficult for Iran to defy the international community. The depletion of Iran’s currency reserves is testing the regime’s ability to sidestep sanctions, and leaders are worried about public discontent with the state of the economy. Iran has also been downgrading some of its enriched uranium to a level that can’t easily be converted to weapons-grade, which may be a small indication that the government is willing to moderate its stance. Key Iranian figures from the foreign minister to the intelligence ministry have also expressed a measure of willingness to cooperate with Western diplomatic efforts.
On the other hand, the path to negotiations has seen a number of stumbling blocks. Signals from Iran have been mixed at best. Supreme Leader Ali Khameini recently rejected the idea of negotiating with the United States, saying that Iran “would not be intimidated” by US pressure. Iran also just revealed plans to install thousands of new centrifuges at its Natanz nuclear facility. Finally, it’ll soon be election season in Iran, which means officials will be anxious not to be seen as caving under Western pressure.