All smiles: foreign ministers of the six world powers at the nuclear talks in Vienna. Getty
The failure to meet this week’s deadline for a definitive nuclear deal between Iran and the so-called P5+1 (the US, UK, France, Russia and China, the permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany) is ominous. True, the negotiations, already extended once after the interim agreement a year ago, have been given a new deadline of June next year. But musings of the glass half full, glass half empty variety under-represent just how difficult it will be now to close a deal, and how much is at stake if this chance to bring the Islamic Republic in from the cold slips away. Read more
IAEA inspectors at Natanz nuclear power plant earlier this year
It all seems so simple: Iran’s aggressive expansion of its – officially – civilian nuclear programme has brought it within months of being able to enrich enough uranium to make an atomic bomb. The world has punished the Islamic republic with sanctions and now nobody is happy. So, as per an agreement last November called the Joint Plan of Action (JPOA), the world’s big powers (the five members of the UN security council plus Germany, or P5+1) want to reduce Iran’s bomb making potential – the so-called breakout time – in return for sanctions relief.
Briefly put: the P5+1 want Iran’s breakout time to go from under 6 months to at least 12. Iran wants to export its oil and use the world’s banking system. And there the simplicity ends.
Beyond the stated goals is a fiendishly complex jigsaw of negotiating positions, all complicated by questions of transparency and trust. Below is an outline of some of the technical terms that may help to understand what is being discussed. Read more
Winston Churchill once famously described watching Soviet politics from abroad as “like watching two dogs fighting under a carpet”. It feels slightly similar today, watching Iranian politics from the West. There is clearly a struggle going on, underneath the Persian carpet, but exactly who is doing what to whom remains opaque.
Take last night’s television interview with President Hassan Rouhani. The president’s appearance was delayed, prompting his staff to tweet that he had been “prevented live discussion w/people…which was scheduled for an hour ago.”
I arrived in VIP-full Davos with one prediction in mind: 2014 will be the year the world returns to normality or at least the semblance of normality with the tapered exit from quantitative easing.
After three days at high altitude, the prediction is intact and I have five other takeaways. Read more
Simply by coming to the World Economic Forum, President Hassan Rouhani of Iran is sending a message. He is the first Iranian president to have spoken in Davos for a decade. In a public speech at the forum and in private meetings with journalists, the president has sought to present a smiling and conciliatory face.
Certainly his personal style is a marked contrast to that of Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, his predecessor. While Ahmadi-Nejad was all staring eyes and confrontation, Rouhani has a ready laugh and listens carefully to questions. Read more
At the end of every year, I attempt a first draft of history by listing what seem to me to be the five most significant events of the past twelve months. Some of my picks for 2013 also featured in 2012. I hope this is not because of intellectual laziness, but simply because the war in Syria, and the turmoil in Egypt remain defining events of our era. I probably should also once again include the tensions between China and Japan – but they are still simmering and have not yet boiled over. So I’ll give the Senkaku-Diaoyu islands a rest this year.
So let me start the list for 2013 with a genuinely new event that has global significance: Read more
By Gideon Rachman
By blocking a deal on Iran’s nuclear programme, France has achieved the unusual feat of annoying the American and Iranian governments simultaneously. If the French had genuinely scuppered the chance of an agreement – making war much more likely – they would deserve all the anger directed at them. But by playing “bad cop” to the Obama administration’s good cop, the French have actually made it more likely that an eventual deal will achieve its goal of preventing an Iranian bomb.
Catherine Ashton, EU foreign policy chief, and Mohammad Zarif, Iran's foreign minister, ahead of talks in Geneva, November 7. Getty.
As Iran and world powers hold a new round of talks in Geneva on Tehran’s nuclear programme, western diplomats have one immediate goal in mind. They want Iran to call an immediate halt to further progress in the nuclear programme so that time can be found next year for a comprehensive solution to the stand-off with the west.
The first round of talks in Geneva last month between Iran and six world powers – the US, France, Britain, Germany, Russia and China – went well. Iran suggested it was looking to try and sign a comprehensive deal at some point in 2014 that lifts the full raft of international sanctions while setting out constraints on its nuclear activities.
But as they start negotiating over this hugely complex deal, western diplomats fear time is not on their side. Their concern is that while everyone is talking in Geneva, Iran is developing its nuclear programme on the ground at a speed which they believe is alarming. Read more
Prospects of a deal over the Iranian nuclear programme
After the most productive talks on Iran’s nuclear programme in years in Geneva this week, Gideon Rachman is joined by defence and diplomatic editor James Blitz and Najmeh Bozorgmehr, Tehran correspondent, to examine what was discussed by the diplomats and how a potential deal might look.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif attends a press conference after two days of nuclear talks in Geneva.
Iran and world powers are still a long way from agreeing a deal to allay global fears about the Iranian nuclear programme. But something has started to happen at this week’s negotiations in Geneva that may significantly improve the chances of a pact.
For the first time, the US and the west have started to explore what the “end state” of the Iranian programme should be – in other words what kind of nuclear facilities the US and its allies will allow Iran to retain over the very long term. Read more
On its way out? A Trident submarine leaves Faslane naval base (Getty)
Does the US want Britain to renew its independent nuclear deterrent? The question is generating a certain amount of debate among security analysts on both sides of the Atlantic. Between now and 2016, the UK must take a decision on whether to spend £20bn building four new submarines to carry the Trident missile. David Cameron’s Conservatives are keenly committed to a like-for-like replacement, saying there can be no compromise with the UK’s ultimate security guarantee.
But there are a few discordant voices out there who are questioning whether it is really worth ploughing all this money into a renewed nuclear weapons capability when the UK is having to cut its conventional arsenal as much as it is. Would it not be better, ask some critics, if Britain shifted the billions of pounds of cash meant for Trident’s replacement and bought weapons it is far more likely to use and which will ensure it remains an effective ally of the US? Read more
As Barack Obama visits Israel and the Palestinian Territories this week, he will doubtless find that one issue tops all others for the Israeli government: the need to persuade him to make a firm commitment to take military action over Iran’s nuclear programme if negotiations to scale back Iranian ambitions eventually break down.
President Obama said recently that he does not think Iran will be in position to get a nuclear weapon for at least another year. But Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s PM, is still looking for a firmer commitment from the White House that if the Iranians take their nuclear capability beyond a certain point, the US will take military action.
Whether differences between the US and Israel will be closed on this trip – or at some other point – is far from clear. Although it says Iran must not get a nuclear weapon, the US administration certainly views the timeframe for the Iranian programme in a more relaxed way than the Israelis do. Read more
By Gideon Rachman
“Our intercontinental ballistic missiles are on standby … If we push the button, they will blast off and their barrage will turn Washington, the stronghold of American imperialists and the nest of evil … into a sea of fire.”
Talks in Almaty on February 27 (AFP/Getty Images)
The latest meeting between Iran and world powers to try and resolve the dilemma over the Iranian nuclear programme is over. And once again, a shaft of light has emerged that will lead some to hope that military action over the Iranian programme might be averted.
After two days of talks in the freezing city of Almaty in Kazakhstan, Iran has told the US and five other world powers that it is prepared to hold a couple more meetings in March and April to try to resolve international concerns that it wants a nuclear bomb.
That said, few will want to overplay the significance of this move. Here are three reasons why many western diplomats will be cautious. Read more
How dangerous is North Korea’s nuclear test?
Within hours of the North Korean nuclear test this week, the UN security council was meeting in emergency session. But how dangerous is this development, and what is likely to happen next? James Blitz, diplomatic and defence editor, Christian Oliver, former Seoul correspondent, and Simon Mundy, the current FT correspondent in Korea, join Gideon Rachman.
Obama and Medvedev signing the 2010 treaty (Getty)
Can Barack Obama use his second term of office to push through another round of cuts in American and Russian nuclear weapons? After declaring in his State of the Union address that he will “engage Russia” on this issue, the question is suddenly back on the international security agenda.
In his first presidential term, President Obama and his then Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev pushed through big cuts in the number of deployed nuclear weapons each side possesses, with each pledging to have no more than 1,550 each by 2018. Now, Mr Obama has come back to the issue and says he wants to do more – with his officials indicating they want to see deployed US and Russian nuclear weapons coming down another third – to around 1,000 on either side.
Discussions about US- Russia arms control are very technical and the detail quickly gets mind-boggling. To the outsider, the subject also seems dispiriting. Even a big cut like the one Mr Obama is proposing would still leave both countries with massive capability to destroy each other and the world. Still, there are a number of reasons why Mr Obama’s attempt to get new cuts is worth attention in the months ahead. Read more
In February, the weather in Almaty is usually well below freezing. So as some of the world’s top diplomats prepare to travel to the former capital of Kazakhstan this month for yet another meeting with Iran over its nuclear programme, most will be feeling somewhat gloomy. The concern is not just the weather, of course, The thing that will induce angst is the near-certain prediction that they will sit there for days in the freezing cold of the southern Kazakh mountains – only to make no progress yet again in talks with Iran over its nuclear ambitions. As one top diplomat tells me: “The best I’m hoping for is that we agree another date to meet. That’s it.”
Judging by the advanced briefing for this meeting – where Iran will negotiate with the US, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany – it’s easy to see why Almaty is set to join Istanbul, Baghdad and Moscow as the scene of another negotiating failure. Read more