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Oct 14, 2008 | 20:11 GMT

3 mins read

Iran, U.S.: Offering Talks and Avoiding Sanctions

Iran is ready to resume talks with the United States over Iraq's security situation as long as Tehran receives an official invitation from both Washington and Baghdad, KUNA reported Oct. 14, citing Iranian Embassy in Baghdad spokesman Manouchehr Taslimi. The fourth round of U.S.-Iranian talks over Iraq took place in March, and negotiations have been in limbo ever since. Even though Iran can try to sweet talk its way out of getting hit hard by sanctions, any serious negotiations on Iraq will now have to wait for the next U.S. administration. Iran's request for talks comes amid rumors that the United States is discussing building a "coalition of the willing" of "like-minded countries" that would target Iran's energy and financial sectors. Such a coalition would operate outside the U.N. Security Council, thereby bypassing the Russian and Chinese vetoes that have traditionally given Tehran a cushion. The Iranians have become quite adept at smooth-talking their way out of sanctions through negotiations with the United States. As long as Iran can demonstrate engagement in the diplomatic arena, it will become harder for Washington to get unanimous support among its allies for hard-hitting sanctions. With oil prices dropping relatively rapidly, the United States could theoretically hit Tehran where it hurts in a fresh round of sanctions by targeting Iranian oil exports, Iranian gasoline imports and/or engineering products for Iranian refineries. But for the United States to be successful in this sanctions strategy, it will need more than just Europe on its side. Most Iranian oil exports go to Asia; specifically, to Japan, China and India. Iran is also a heavy consumer of gasoline because of its severely deficient refining capacity. It gets most of its refined oil imports from India, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, the Netherlands, France, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates. The United States would need to bring India, Japan and China into its coalition to noticeably impact Iran's economic situation at the present time, when Iranian presidential elections are approaching, oil prices are dropping and pressure is rising on Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad because of his economic policies. But Japan and China already have demonstrated their reluctance to take any action that could seriously jeopardize their own energy security. And India is far from likely to make such a strong political move against Iran when its domestic opposition is already accusing India's ruling party of making the country a U.S. proxy against traditional Indian allies like Iran. All in all, it will still be quite difficult for Washington to build an effective coalition against Iran, especially if the Iranians are trying to restart negotiations once again. But the Iranians must know that there is no one to negotiate with seriously at the moment in Washington. With the U.S. presidential race coming to a close, Washington is in transition, and it is unlikely to have the political capacity or patience to entertain Iran's offer for negotiations. Any serious talks between Washington and Tehran will thus have to wait until the next U.S. administration takes office. In the meantime, Iran can attempt to skirt sanctions through talking about talks.
Iran, U.S.: Offering Talks and Avoiding Sanctions

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