We wrote last week about how the Iran nuclear negotiations seemed at an impasse despite (or because of) airdropping secretary of State John Kerry into the negotiations.
Iran has successfully split the nominal alliance seeking to thwart its nuclear ambitions, peeling off both Russia and China. Iran and Russia are allied militarily in Syria and Iraq making it very unlikely that the Russians are going to press the Iranians very hard. With the Russians and Chinese out of the picture, Iran could very well make the calculation that it can withstand any sanctions imposed by the remaining nations if it has the goodwill of Russia and China.
As expected, the "deadline" came and went and left us with another deadline.
Iran, the United States and the five other countries negotiating the future of the Iranian nuclear program have agreed to a four-month extension of the talks, giving them more time to try to bridge major differences over whether Tehran will be forced to dismantle parts of its nuclear infrastructure, according to a statement released early Saturday in Vienna by all seven nations.
Conveniently, this moves us past the midterm elections so Democrats on the campaign trail won't have to defend yet another foreign policy failure by Obama.
Secretary of State John Kerry said that under the extension, Iran would get access to $2.8 billion in assets that have been frozen in the United States, but sanctions against oil sales and other major sources of income would not be lifted. “Let me be clear,” Mr. Kerry said in a statement, “Iran will not get any more money during these four months than it did during the last six months, and the vast majority of its frozen oil revenues will remain inaccessible.”
This, of course, is just "quatsch" (a useful German word I picked up years ago). The Iranians were allowed access to $2.8 billion of their impounded dollars for agreeing to the extension. That's right. They stonewalled the negotiations for six months, failed to yield on any substantive points and this is the result:
In exchange for the $2.8 billion, Kerry said, Iran agreed to take several steps, including to keep neutralizing its most sensitive uranium stocks - uranium that has been enriched to a level of 20 percent purity - by converting it to fuel for a research reactor in Tehran used to make medical isotopes.
As I mentioned in my original post on this topic, the Iranians have successfully inserted not one but two Trojan Horses into the negotiations. China is eyeing independent commercial deals with Iran and Russia is not only effectively Tehran's military ally in Syria and Iraq but they intend to sign a commercial deal that allows Iran to circumvent the already weak sanctions regime:
Iran and Russia have made progress towards an oil-for-goods deal sources said would be worth up to $20 billion, which would enable Tehran to boost vital energy exports in defiance of Western sanctions, people familiar with the negotiations told Reuters.
In January Reuters reported Moscow and Tehran were discussing a barter deal that would see Moscow buy up to 500,000 barrels a day of Iranian oil in exchange for Russian equipment and goods.
The White House has said such a deal would raise "serious concerns" and would be inconsistent with the nuclear talks between world powers and Iran.
A Russian source said Moscow had "prepared all documents from its side", adding that completion of a deal was awaiting agreement on what oil price to lock in.
The source said the two sides were looking at a barter arrangement that would see Iranian oil being exchanged for industrial goods including metals and food, but said there was no military equipment involved. The source added that the deal was expected to reach $15 to $20 billion in total and would be done in stages with an initial $6 billion to $8 billion tranche.
So we are left with negotiations while Iran and Russia grow closer together and Iran's nuclear weapons program progresses. The strategy of using Russia in the negotiations with Iran is certainly working out well and paying huge dividends.