The Persian Knot

BERLIN – The negotiations between Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, plus Germany, over Iran’s nuclear program are entering a new, and probably decisive, stage. The negotiations have been going on for almost a decade, with long interruptions, and whether a breakthrough will come this time is anyone’s guess. But the situation has never been as serious as it is today, and peace hangs in the balance.

After the recent visits by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to Washington, DC, and by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to Tehran, a foggy situation is nonetheless becoming clearer. It appears that US President Barack Obama has won time by drawing a line in the sand – the start of an explicit Iranian nuclear-weapons program – and by assuring Israel of America’s readiness for military action should negotiations fail.

Moreover, in view of the danger of a military confrontation, the United States, together with Europe and other partners, has implemented tough new “smart” sanctions aimed at Iran’s oil exports – its main source of income – while largely isolating the Islamic Republic from the international payment system. Iran urgently needs the oil revenue, and, without participation in the payments system, its international trade is grinding to a halt. Barter transactions and suitcases full of cash are not a viable alternative. So Iran’s economy is being shaken to the core.

Furthermore, the US seems to have communicated in a credible manner both the seriousness of the situation and its own intentions to the Iranian leadership via various channels. So, if this round of negotiations, too, should fail, a great – and entirely foreseeable – tragedy could begin to unfold.