Vermont Public Radio comment for Friday June 15th, 2012

VPR195 INTRO: The next meeting to discuss Iran’s nuclear program is set for Monday in Moscow. As commentator and veteran ABC News diplomatic correspondent Barrie Dunsmore tells us, the mood prior to these negotiations is pessimistic.  

TEXT: This will be the third in a new series of talks between Iran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council –the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China, plus Germany 

The first two meetings in Istanbul and Baghdad respectively, achieved very little. And earlier this week it appeared as though next week’s gathering in Moscow would be postponed because expectations were so low. In the end, both sides agreed it was better to meet than not – but that’s hardly encouraging.

If this were a routine dispute, there would be no cause for alarm. But the outcome of these particular negotiations may well determine if there will be another major Middle East war. 

The international community views these talks as a way for Iran to prove its claims that it is not trying to build a nuclear weapon. It wants Iran to stop reprocessing its uranium to near weapons grade, and to allow U.N. weapons inspectors full access to all Iranian nuclear facilities. 

Iran wants recognition of its right to reprocess uranium for peaceful purposes. But most of all, it wants the very tough international sanctions that are destroying its economy to be lifted immediately.  

Given the tortured history of mistrust that exists between the parties, the stumbling block appears to be who makes what concession first – and so far neither side is budging.  

This matters because Israel has essentially given the world an ultimatum, that if Iran’s nuclear program is not soon curtailed though diplomacy, Israel will launch air attacks against it. The United States would inevitably be drawn in on the side of Israel with consequences which no one can exactly predict –except that none of them would be good. Even Israel couldn't expect to achieve more than setting back Iran's nuclear program by a couple of years.

Yet an attack would virtually guarantee that Iran would accelerate its efforts to become a nuclear power – a decision which according to American intelligence agencies Iran actually has not yet made.

Meantime, a major domestic political flap has erupted over a New York Times report that the U.S. was behind cyber attacks on Iran’s nuclear facilities using a secret, new computer virus called Stuxnet.  

Republicans cried foul, claiming the White House leaked the story to make President Barack Obama look good - even though such revelations damage American national security. The president has strongly condemned the leaks and has launched a Department of Justice investigation into who’s responsible.   

Leaks can come from many sources. It seems the Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein now admits to having discussed Stuxnet with the Times before it published its report.  And the Internet is buzzing with speculation that the Israelis leaked the Stuxnet story -supposedly to destroy cyber war as an Iranian option for Obama - so that his only choice would be real war. 

Whatever the truth, this high stakes game of international chicken, is now close to ending very badly.

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