U.S., Iran Seek Closer Ties Alongside Nuclear Program

Washington radiates optimism after IAEA progresses toward inspection of Parchin base; Leon Panetta emphasizes that ‘a military option is not being weighed at this point.’

The Obama administration and the Iranian regime of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei are entering a critical week of decisions over the issue of Iran’s nuclear program. The sides are moving toward a “warming of relations alongside enrichment”, whereby the relationship between Washington and Tehran will improve, while Iran continues enriching uranium without pursuing a weapons program, but does not give up on its existing program. The threat of American or Israeli military action still exists, yet no one is holding the gun to Iran’s head.

Several developments have taken in the last couple of days, causing the White House to radiate optimism:

- Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency Yukiya Amano announced that he will visit Tehran in two days for talks with head of the Iranian negotiating team Saeed Jalili. The visit, which comes on the heels of a round of talks in Vienna, as well as another evening of talks, reflects a narrowing of the gap between the IAEA’s demand to allow its inspectors to access the Parchin base - where it is suspected that Iran is developing nuclear weapons - and the Iranian claim that Parchin is a military base exempt of all inspection. Iran’s readiness to accept the inspection of Parchin – after suspicious traces have been erased – will serve as proof of Iran’s new policy of “transparency” over its nuclear program.

- In response to U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro’s statement that “a U.S. military option is ready,” the spokesperson of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta stated that “a military option is not being weighed at this point,” and that “American and international focus” is on diplomatic and economic measures on Iran “so that it does the right thing.”

- In the framework of the G8 summit, Obama met with the heads of France, Germany, Russia, Britain, Japan, Italy and Canada at Camp David in order to agree on a coordinated position on Iran. The coordination is necessary in the run-up to a meeting between German representatives and the P5+1 members in the UN Security Council with the Iranian envoy this week in Baghdad. Of the six countries slated to participate in the Baghdad meeting, only China is absent from the Camp David summit.

- The location of the G8 summit, in the small pavilions of Camp David, with an unbuttoned atmosphere devoid of entourages (each leader was allowed to be accompanied by no more than two advisers), was intended to promote personal agreements on the highest level, with no cumbersome mechanisms that would prevent reaching quick decisions.

- Obama hosted French President Francois Hollande on Friday for a first meeting since the latter’s election victory over Nicolas Sarkozy, and due to the American worry (based on Hollande’s declarations during his campaign) that the new government in Paris will become more moderate in its stance on Iran. Obama’s adviser, Tom Donilon, told reporters before the meeting that on the issue of Iran, like the issue of the pullout from Afghanistan, the expectation is that France should “be a good ally” that will supply “good support.”

- The NATO conference, which will take place on Sunday and Monday in Chicago, is not going to directly discuss the Iranian issue, but throughout the conference it will be announced that the system to intercept surface-to-surface missiles, which is partially located in Turkey and is meant to thwart the threat of Iranian missiles on Europe, has reached an interim stage of operational development.

- Pentagon spokesperson George Little said at the end of the meeting between Panetta and Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Thursday that Panetta and other officials shared with Barak and his colleagues in the Israeli government their worry over a possible Israel Defense Forces strike in Iran. In an attempt to soften Ambassador Shapiro’s words on the option of an American attack on Iran, Little stated that the Pentagon is, by nature, a “planning organization”, whose day to day activities include formulating emergency plans.

In addition, American officials said over the weekend were reported by the New York Times as saying that the six world powers are willing to offer Iran an incentive package in return for a freeze in enrichment. Among the incentives is an offer to relieve the limits set on Iran’s aviation and energy sectors, but without canceling the heavy sanctions on its oil industry, which are set to be implemented in July.

Read this article in Hebrew.