Deal in Vienna?

A suicide bombing against Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard that killed six commanders and 37 others has cast a shadow over the fate of ongoing talks at Vienna on Iran’s nuclear programme. The Iranian government has blamed the United States, Britain and Pakistan for the attack. While a Sunni militant group called Jundallah has claimed responsibility for the attack, Iran’s allegations are not completely unfounded. Even if the US did not have a direct hand in the attack on the Revolutionary Guard, it did foster militant groups opposed to the Iranian government. It is believed that former president George Bush began a covert programme in 2005 that  involved providing financial and other assistance to Iranian opposition groups. It’s not known whether it was discontinued after Obama came to power. The suicide attack couldn’t have happened at a worse time. It took place on the eve of crucial talks at the International Atomic Energy Agency between Iran and Russia, France and the US on Iran’s nuclear programme.

On the table for discussion at Vienna is a plan that would provide for Russia and France treating Iranian low-grade uranium and turning it into fuel rods for a medical reactor in Tehran, instead of Iran creating its own medium-enriched uranium. This plan is seen as one that addresses concerns of all sides. It would provide Iran the fuel it needs, implicit acknowledgement of its right to enrich uranium and no new sanctions. It would also ease western fears over Iran’s existing stockpile being diverted to make nuclear bombs.

The plan holds out an opportunity to resolve the crisis over Iran’s nuclear programme diplomatically. The question is whether Iran or the US is keen to solve the problem. The Iranian leaderships legitimacy was shaken by public unrest over a rigged vote. It will be reluctant to make concessions that will be seen by hardliners as a sign of weakness. As for the US, Congress has begun taking steps to move legislation that will provide for new unilateral sanctions against Iran. This, at a time when a solution seems within reach. This is not just unhelpful, it is provocative. Obama’s strategy of engaging Iran diplomatically to resolve the crisis over the latter’s nuclear programme is being undermined from within.

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