Vermont Public Radio comment for Thursday October 16th, 2014

 VPR248 INTRO: The deadline for reaching an agreement to restrict Iran’s nuclear capabilities is fast approaching. And as commentator and veteran ABC News foreign correspondent Barrie Dunsmore points out this morning, the slim chances for the success of these nuclear talks are further clouded, by the current Middle East crisis involving the Islamic State known as ISIS.

TEXT: Iran definitely has shared interests with the American led coalition seeking to degrade and eventually destroy the Islamic State militants. In fact, ISIS is a threat to two of Iran’s key allies- Syria and Iraq. And right now Iraq is reeling. Yet because the Shiite clerics of Iran are seen as the true enemy - by the coalition of Sunni Muslims that the United States has forged to fight ISIS - there will be no cooperation or coordination with Iran, at least nothing that will be publicly acknowledged. In a sense, that’s too bad because Iranian-American cooperation in fighting ISIS to save Iraq, could dispel the atmosphere of mistrust that plague the nuclear talks as they come down to the wire.

The deadline for reaching an agreement to keep Iran out of the nuclear club, in exchange for lifting economic sanctions now being imposed on the Iranians by most of the international community, is November 24th. Secretary of State John Kerry began meeting again with the Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif in Vienna yesterday. 

Some very tough questions remain to be resolved. Will Iran be allowed to continue reprocessing uranium even at low level? How much of its current stockpile of reprocessed uranium- the main ingredient of a nuclear weapon- can it keep? How many of the thousands of centrifuges it is using at several nuclear sites will it be allowed to maintain? And what’s going to happen to these nuclear facilities themselves? In addition, the International Atomic Energy Agency is having problems getting answers from Iran about its past nuclear activities, and with unfettered inspections.

Meantime, last week, there was a major explosion at the nuclear plant at Parchin - one of Iran’s key military bases where it builds missiles and munitions. It’s not clear if this was an accident- or sabotage, It is widely believed Israel, and the United States, have previously sabotaged Iran’s nuclear program. America denies it was responsible for the assassinations of several Iranian nuclear scientists. Israel remains circumspect. Iran remains highly suspicious.

Yet even if an agreement with Iran is reached by the November deadline, it will almost certainly fall short of Israel’s maximum demands, which go far beyond anything Iran is going to accept. That suggests the US Congress will most likely oppose the deal.  This is significant, because if sanctions are to be lifted on Iran, Congress needs to vote to approve their removal.

However for all the opposition to an agreement there may be in Washington, Israel and Saudi Arabia - there is at least as much resistance in Iran. The principle opponent in Iran is the Revolutionary Guard Corps, which is deeply involved in Iran’s nuclear program and is believed to have powerful influence with Iran’s Supreme leader- the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Only one thing seems certain. If the naysayers on either side ultimately prevail, the threat to regional stability by ISIS, will seem small by comparison to the very possible war with Iran.

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