Negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 superpowers (the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany) are still tottering along like a rickety wagon in that song, "one step forward and two steps back."
The next station is Moscow, where the sides meet on Monday to talk. Counter to the pessimistic atmosphere following talks in Baghdad, rumors and intimations which sprouted last week, including from Iranian sources, gave credence to the notion that there is a chance to move forward this time. If this is indeed the case, the question is in which direction: toward reaching the declared goals of the West, perhaps even toward Israel's more firm demands? Or will things move more toward Tehran's position?
The Iranians have forfeited their demand to hold preliminary talks prior to the meeting in Moscow, talks where they apparently wanted to change the final negotiating conditions ahead of time. An anonymous Western diplomat has already said, "We will respond positively to a number of their ideas."
What are these ideas? They mostly revolve around minimizing the sanctions imposed against Iran in exchange for their willingness (in principle), to transfer their existing stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium out of the country.
However, if this formula is accepted, the Iranians will be able to continue enriching other stockpiles of uranium as they please, inside their underground Fordo complex. And we must understand that even with uranium enriched to levels well below 20%, the road to making a nuclear bomb is not a long one. However, Western diplomats have hinted that if the Iranians put the aforementioned offer on the table, the West will be ready to offer reciprocal measures (despite not committing in advance to remove the main sanctions). In addition, Tehran wants to integrate other issues into these nuclear negotiations, like Syria and Bahrain, for example.
According to a well-known but unofficial Iranian source, the regime will also demand an extraction of U.S. military presence from the region, recognition of Tehran's eminency in Iraq and Afghanistan, the removal of resources that the regime feels pose an American threat to it, the reduction of U.S. security aid to Israel, and agreeing to create a new security order for the entire region, an order that would position Iran in the center of the sphere of influence.
Russia, for its own reasons, would perhaps agree to some of the regime's demands, but it shouldn't be assumed that its Western negotiating partners, specifically the United States, would be so inclined. However, the mere proposal of such ideas by Iran testify to its objective of parlaying the nuclear issue into solidifying its hegemonic aspirations in the Middle East.
It would be wrong to say that Israel and the United States are on a collision course in regards to the Iranian issue. On the contrary, Israel has congratulated the U.S. for declaring that it will "not allow Iran to have the bomb" and for its opposition to a policy of "containment" (meaning allowing Iran to have a bomb but imposing measures that would prevent its use).
The "all options are on the table" formula is also satisfactory for Israel, at least on condition that the practical distance between "the option" and the decision to realize it isn't too far apart. Therefore, it is more accurate to say that Israel and the U.S. are on different, but parallel, tracks. Indeed, Israel is worried that Iran will take advantage of the U.S. administration's intentions in order to "buy time" while using any excuse to meet its nuclear goals.
We must wait and see what the Moscow talks deliver, but it's likely that afterward the wagon will still be faltering onward, one step forward and two steps back, all the way to the next station.