The talks in Kazakhstan between Iran and the P5+1 countries over Iran's nuclear program ended on Wednesday at the very same point they began. In essence, there has not been any noted progress since the talks in 2009 in Geneva between Iran and the five permanent U.N. Security Council members plus Germany. The talks are looking a lot more like "Iran Tours" — they give all participating parties the opportunity to visit numerous cities around the world (Geneva, Istanbul, Moscow, Baghdad, Almaty) instead of actually putting an end to Iran's mad dash toward a nuclear bomb.
Another meeting is expected to be held on March 18 in Istanbul between groups of technical experts, and on April 5 the delegations will return to Almaty. During the Middle Ages the city was an important stop on the Silk Road. In 2013 it has become a useless stop in the efforts to shut down Iran's nuclear program.
According to foreign diplomats, the biggest accomplishment in the talks thus far has been the Western countries' offer to ease sanctions in return for trust-building steps on Iran's part. On the eve of the talks two worrisome developments were uncovered: One was that Iran is upgrading its centrifuges in Natanz (according to an International Atomic Energy Agency report), and the second, reported by the Daily Telegraph, was that Iran is developing a new method to create atomic weapons, after satellite photos showed for the first time that the Arak reactor was capable of producing plutonium for a nuclear bomb.
The pope's last sermon on Wednesday caused a much bigger stir on the web than the talks in Almaty. No one really believed something would happen there. The sides are talking, but currently Iran has no looming military threat over its head. Chuck Hagel's appointment on Tuesday as defense secretary apparently didn't cause much reaction in Tehran either.
The West's demand is that Iran stop enriching uranium to 20 percent and relinquish its existing uranium stockpiles. This is exactly the same demand made in Geneva in 2009. The Iranians continue to claim they have the right to enrich uranium, and that the subject is not up for negotiation. So what exactly are they talking about in these meetings?
The Western powers thought they provided Iran with an amazing offer in Almaty. Iran could return to the international gold trade and have certain sanctions on oil and banking relaxed. The world apparently does not understand that for the ayatollahs uranium is worth a lot more today than gold. Iran, by the way, responded with a "no."
The Iranians have been talented negotiators since the time of antiquity. Admittedly, the world is helping them. Take for example, Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, who headed the Russian delegation. He opposes relaxing the sanctions until Iran proves its nuclear program is not for military purposes, but at the same time is also against expanding the sanctions already in place. Ryabkov explained that Iran has not proved to the world that its program isn't intended for military purposes, but on the other hand there is no clear evidence that it is.
These talks are becoming ridiculous. The Iranians set the pace. The Iranians had bilateral meetings in Almaty as well, with the delegations from Russia (as always), Britain and Germany. The only time they sat face to face with the Americans was in Geneva, and that in itself is not very encouraging. The sole "achievement" made in the talks in Kazakhstan was that the talks did not implode. And why would they? Everything is going exactly in Iran's interests. Talks, talks, and more talks.
The amazing thing is that the Western powers didn't even come to these talks with many expectations. Everyone understands that until the June elections in Iran, Tehran cannot show any flexibility out of electoral considerations. The idea is not to leave a vacuum, and have the door always open. From Iran's point of view, the nuclear program is the regime's insurance policy. So it should not come as any surprise that Iran says no to the Western powers and no to the IAEA.
At this rate, one morning we will wake up just as we did with the Pakistani or North Korean bomb, and then? What will we talk about? The sites to visit in Almaty?