Russia needs Iran as a deterrent against its enemies in the region, the Arab monarchies led by Saudi Arabia. China, the main purchaser of Iranian oil, seems to be covertly facilitating the Iranian missile and nuclear program, or at least mediating between Iran and North Korea in this matter.
Since 2003, the P5+1 group of international mediators (Russia, UK, China, U.S., France and Germany) and the IAEA have been trying to convince Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment program, which, they fear, could undermine the global nuclear non-proliferation regime. Talks on Iran’s “peaceful” nuclear program have lately become a fixture of global politics, with the latest round scheduled for June 18 and 19 in Moscow.
It’s fairly clear that Iran has agreed to talk with the P5+1 and put forward various initiatives as a means to buy time to proceed with its nuclear program. Likewise, there is little doubt that the program in question is both civilian and military, as indicated by Iran’s accelerated development of missiles that would make no sense militarily as a vehicle for conventional arms. Tehran needs nuclear weapons in order to avert a U.S.-Israeli attack, to boost its influence and prestige in the Islamic world and as an effective form of leverage over Arab countries.
By all appearances, Tehran views Moscow as a “useful idiot” that can help it drag out talks for as long as possible. Russia, too, needs Iran as a deterrent against its enemies in the region, the Arab monarchies led by Saudi Arabia. China, the main purchaser of Iranian oil, seems to be covertly facilitating the Iranian missile and nuclear program, or at least mediating between Iran and the DPRK in this matter.
Where the Western nations are concerned, they don’t want an attack on Iran, as this would send oil prices skyrocketing and cause a surge in terrorism. Apart from that, Iran is effectively holding hostage the entire U.S.-NATO contingent in Afghanistan, an anti-insurgent force incapable of waging war against the large, if somewhat outmoded, Iranian army. The Europeans are basically unprepared for any kind of war against Iran. The U.S. is certainly capable of launching a large-scale air operation in order to destroy Iran’s military and nuclear industry and its main military facilities. But an operation of this sort will be an extremely costly affair with unpredictable political and economic consequences. Israel would have attacked Iran long ago, but it has very limited military capabilities, having no strategic bombers or long-range cruise missiles and very few tanker aircraft. Besides, Israel is unwilling to risk even a single Israeli pilot ending up in Iranian captivity.
For these reasons and more, everyone stands to benefit from talks at this point. The negotiations will continue until Iran makes a breakthrough in its quest for a nuclear weapon. If some inconvertible evidence that Iran is close to acquiring a nuclear weapon surfaces before this point, Israel appears likely to strike Iran without asking for Washington’s blessing and regardless of its own limited capabilities. America will have no choice then but to join the strike.
Moscow will, until the last moment, foster the illusion that it can actually influence Tehran’s position and that Iran is keen to know its views. To be sure, this is an illusion and nothing more. No peaceful compromise is possible as this would contradict Tehran’s understanding of its interests. And the liberalization or downfall of the current Iranian regime seems all but impossible at this point.