To the Brink and Back with Iran

GENEVA – The trouble with brinkmanship of the type now being played out over Iran’s nuclear program is that it is so easy to fall over the cliff. At the first two rounds of new talks between Iran and the P5+1 (the five permanent United Nations Security Council members plus Germany), in Istanbul in April and Baghdad in May, both sides still at least stumbled along the edge of the precipice. Now, after the third round in Moscow, they are holding on by not much more than their fingernails.

Neither side has been prepared to compromise on any substantive issue. They did agree – barely ­– to hold a low-level experts meeting in early July, but no one expects this to lead to a breakthrough. By then, new European and American sanctions on Iranian oil exports will be in force, and the United States Congress is pushing to apply more, with influential voices there arguing that the negotiation game is over. War talk is still close to the surface in Israel, and anxiety is mounting that, in the highly charged political climate of a US election year, escalation might not be containable.