What to Watch if U.S. Joins Iran Talks

The news that U.S. representatives will join the P5+1 talks with Iran is significant, but not really news. Same goes for the reaction from Tehran, which remains cautiously receptive and noncommittal.

I’m more curious about the reaction from the EU3, particularly France. My hunch is that that will have a lot to do with what “reaching out to Iran on a one-to-one basis” — as per White House officials cited by the NY Times — amounts to. If that takes place on a strictly defined, single-issue basis — i.e. Iraq security cooperation, or Afghanistan supply routes — it shouldn’t cause much of a problem. But if it becomes broader bilateral engagement, it risks undermining the negotiations on the nuclear track, and creating some hard feelings among the Europeans.

I’m also curious about what impact this will have on the West’s coordinated bargaining position. As yet, the stated objective of the negotiations that the Obamaadministration has now agreed to join is an Iranian freeze on enrichment.There have been whispers that the Obama administration’s Iran review would roll that back to acceptingenrichment in return for more intrusive IAEA inspections that would protect against clandestine weaponization. But I’ve yet tosee the European response to that, and offhand, I’d say the Frenchwould be pretty hostile to it.

Finally, I’m curious about whether and when President Obama will be willing to take “No” for an answer.(One problem with the Bush administration being that at times it wasunwilling to take “Yes” for an answer.) So far, Obama chose to ignore aless-than-encouraging IAEA report on Iran’s nuclear program,understandable given that it was poorly timed at the very start of hisoutreach campaign. Now the WaPo is reportingan impending Iranian announcement of technological advances in theirnuclear fuel enrichment process (possibly the installation of next-generation centrifuges). That would amountto entering any new round of talks having doubled down on a position that is already deadlocked.

Obviously, today’s news is welcome, and it’s a necessary step towards any potential payoff down the line. But for the time being, with regard to Iran, it’s tomorrow’s news that will matter.