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Talks to Resume Over Iranian Nuclear Program

Diplomatic talks have resumed this week over the ongoing nuclear weapons program in Iran. One would think this would be a good sign, as increased tension with Iran so frequently results in threats to close the extremely important Strait of Hormuz. However, it appears that nobody is expecting much to come from these negotiations. The New York Times reports:

When Iran’s nuclear negotiating team sits down with its Western counterparts in Almaty, Kazakhstan, on Tuesday, it will offer no new plans or suggestions, people familiar with the views of the Iranian leadership say. More likely, they say, the Iranian negotiators will sit with arms crossed, demanding a Western change of heart.

Iran’s leaders believe that the effects of Western sanctions have been manageable, and Iran continues to make progress on what it says is a peaceful nuclear energy program. And Iran’s leaders see that North Korea, which openly admits that it wants nuclear weapons, has performed three nuclear tests without suffering any real penalties.

As a result, Iran’s leaders feel that they, not the West, hold the upper hand in negotiations.

This attitude has reflected poorly on the status of the negotiations already. Again, the New York Times claims that all parties are skeptical that the talks will result in any fruitful negotiations.

The ultimate goal of talks with Iran is to get the country to comply with Security Council resolutions demanding that it stop enrichment altogether until it can satisfy the International Atomic Energy Agency that it has no weapons program and no hidden enrichment sites. In return, all sanctions — which have so far cost Iran 8 percent of its gross domestic product, sharply increased inflation and collapsed the value of the Iranian currency, the rial — would be lifted.

No one expects that kind of breakthrough in this round, especially with Iranian presidential elections coming in June and any major concession likely to be perceived as weakness. But the hope is for an incremental movement toward Iranian compliance in return for a modest lifting of sanctions.

…Senior Western diplomats have said that this meeting would be a low-level success if it produced a specific agreement to meet again soon, or to meet more often at the technical level, so that there would be an element of momentum to the negotiations.

The six nations talking with Iran have remained united and share an impatience over what they perceive to be its delaying tactics. The Russian envoy, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, who has been most opposed to increasing sanctions, said that time was running out for the talks. He told the Interfax news agency that easing sanctions would be possible only if Iran could assure the world that its nuclear program was for exclusively peaceful purposes.

“There is no certainty that the Iranian nuclear program lacks a military dimension, although there is also no evidence that there is a military dimension,” he said.

It could be expected that gas prices may move slightly higher if these talks do inevitably break down. However, as of this moment none of this appears to be having much of an effect on the market. Instead, fears of a cyclical price increase appear to overshadow any price shocks for the near future.

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