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Sep 26, 2014 | 21:33 GMT

6 mins read

Conversation: Undercurrents of the U.S.-Iran Nuclear Negotiations

David Judson: Hi, I'm David Judson Editor-in-Chief of Stratfor. With me today is Reva Bhalla, our Vice President of Analysis. Reva, thank you for taking a moment. The…I really want to talk about the Iran nuclear negotiations once again back in the headlines. But before we get to what's happening today in New York, I wanted to ask you briefly about the background and the context because it's long been Stratfor's view that this is not really about, certainly not limited to, Nuclear talks, there's a lot geopolitically going on under the surface.

Reva Bhalla: Absolutely

David: So, backing up, where do we start?

Reva: Yea, so if we back up and we look at Iran and we look at what are its fundamental imperatives, right. Throw the nuclear question out for a second. And it's always been about Iran's western flank with Iraq. Mesopotamia has always been both the prize and often times a threat to Iran. So when the opportunity came for the U.S. to dislodge a very hostile Sunni regime in Iraq, of course Iran jumped at that opportunity. And there were negotiations fairly early on after 9/11 through the U.S. invasion of Iraq, as we know. And around that time, as well, if we just go back, you know, even more than a decade when we started seeing the nuclear issue come into the headlines, we had to ask ourselves: Is this normal behavior for a country that is intent on developing a nuclear program to scream from the rooftops every time they want to enrich, right? And you have to ask yourself what is the intent behind that.

David: Sure, and well Pakistan next door is arguably a greater threat in terms of its nuclear weaponry — it already has one.

Reva: Right, and India as well. So we saw the covert development of a nuclear program, as you would expect. But Iran's objectives, while of course it is very beneficial to have a nuclear deterrent, it's also the process of developing that deterrent where Iran found the most use, knowing that there were going to be serious limits to the weaponization of a nuclear device down the road, especially with Israeli intelligence all over you. So, really it's been about Iraq. And as Iran was able to develop a friendly regime in Iraq through the Shia majority there, then it became a question of okay how do we make sure the regime is secure fundamentally and through a working relationship with the world's most powerful military, the United States. And so there were a lot of reasons for the Iranians to use the nuclear issue to, in a sense, pull the U.S. into a negotiation that can serve its purposes and we've see that ebb and flow, of course, over the past decade. But here we're at a critical point.

David: So can it be thus argued that up until now if it was largely about Iraq, now it's moved to be in many dimensions about Syria. Or is that a simplification?

Reva: No, not exactly. So there are a lot of issues here. So when we look at the fundamentals of the U.S.-Iran negotiation, what do we see? On the U.S. side, this is the last place that the U.S., wants to be tied down in the middle east, right. And if the U.S. is going to have any hope of dealing with a Russia with a China, any threat that emerges down the road, it needs a strategy, it needs allies, if not allies, at least working partners to manage the burden of conflict in this region, and Iran is one of the fundamental powers there. So the U.S. has realized it can't sustain an antagonistic relationship with Iran if it hopes to lessen that burden in the Middle East, and from the Iranian perspective, they can't hope to extend the level of influence that they want in the region without figuring out how to work with the United States on some level, right. To have some recognition not only for the regime as it currently is in place, but also a recognition of that sphere of influence. Then you look at the energy equation. And the U.S. of course has an interest in stable energy flows out of the Strait of Hormuz. The Iranians are looking at the situation: What better time to position yourself as an alternative for energy for the Europeans when the Russians are bearing down on the Europeans in a number of places? So the Iranians see the economic interests, but they also see the national security interests as well, to strike a deal with the United States while they can.

David: So what's your short-term forecast? Do you see a deal on the wind? There's been talk today from out of Tehran as well as Washington that hints that something may be near.

Reva: You know, we have to be careful not to swing day by day with the rhetoric. Because in any negotiation, it always looks like the whole thing is going to explode right before you strike a deal. Will they actually strike a deal? We don't know. What we do know is that the fundamentals of this negotiation are there. That is the most important thing to remember. We're down to technicalities. There can be a breakthrough when it comes to the negotiation over those technicalities. And we have to see what's at stake, right. For the Iranian regime, Rouhani has gone into this negotiation; he's put a lot on the line. His opponents in the IRGC are really amping up the rhetoric, threatening to impeach him if he so much as even meets with Obama. So if he doesn't show at least progress in this deal, his political capital declines considerably. That's something the United States knows as well. And that’s something that, you know that, will add urgency to this level of negotiation. But it's not just about the nuclear issue: It's about the regional understanding between the U.S. and Iran — where they can work together and where they can agree to disagree essentially.

David: Wheels within wheels, complicated. That's all we have time for today, but for more on this, please join us at Stratfor. 

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