Some Basic Facts and Background:
New Nuclear Negotiations between the U.S. and other World Powers and Iran

by Larry Everest | October 18, 2013 | Revolution Newspaper |


On Tuesday and Wednesday, October 15-16, the U.S. and other world powers met in Geneva, Switzerland, for formal negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. The group negotiating with Iran is called the P5 + 1—the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (the U.S., France, Russia, China, and Britain) plus Germany. On Tuesday, the Iranian delegation also met directly with the U.S. delegation for the first time. Further meetings are scheduled for early November.

This follows President Obama's September 24 speech at the UN in which he called for a major diplomatic push to "resolve the issue of Iran's nuclear program" as a step toward building a "different relationship" with Iran "based on mutual interests and mutual respect," which Obama argued was critical to stabilizing the Middle East. Three days later, he talked with Iranian President Rouhani, the first time the leaders of the two countries had spoken since 1979.

These moves come against the backdrop of upheaval and turmoil in the Middle East. This is a region where the U.S. rulers feel it's critical that they call the shots on the basic setup and power relations; where Iran has traditionally been a local power; and where, since 1979, U.S. and Iranian interests have been sharply at odds. While it is too early to tell precisely what each side is seeking, or whether any agreements will be reached, it's important to understand some basic facts about Iran's nuclear program, the U.S.-led response, and the broader context this issue is situated in.

Basic history and background

Iran's nuclear program was revealed in 2002. Iran insists that its program is only for enriching uranium to fuel nuclear reactors, not for military purposes—i.e., to build a nuclear bomb, and that it has the right to enrich under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The U.S. and its closest allies, in particular Israel, have insisted Iran is violating the NPT, not living up to its "obligations," and secretly pursuing nuclear weapons. (No conclusive proof has ever been brought forward for these charges, or that Iran is in violation of the NPT in any significant way). The U.S. and its allies have demanded Iran halt all enrichment and dismantle much of its nuclear program, threatened Iran militarily, refused to restore diplomatic relations with Iran after breaking them in 1980 after the takeover of the U.S. Embassy by Iranian students, and then imposed draconian sanctions.

However, it is critical to understand first that the "nuclear issue" exists in a broader context of overall U.S.-Israeli hostility and opposition to the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) going back to the Iranian revolution of 1979 and the IRI's ambitions to maintain its rule and assert itself as a regional power. As we explore in Part 1 of the article "Obama at the UN: Whitewashing the Real 'Roots of Mistrust' between the U.S. and Iran," the core issue here is that while the Islamic Republic of Iran is a reactionary, oppressive theocracy whose interests, including regional objectives, are in direct opposition to the interests of the people in Iran and in the region, it also represents a significant challenge to American dominance of the Middle East, including to its key client Israel. So the U.S. and Israel have spent the last 30-plus years trying to weaken, contain, and even overthrow the IRI because they felt it posed an unacceptable impediment and alternative source of influence in the region on many fronts.

The nuclear issue must be understood in this context. The issue for the U.S. and Israel has never been whether or not Iran is actively pursuing a nuclear weapon. They've been opposed to Iran having any right or ability to enrich uranium (which countries do have under the NPT) for a number of imperialist geopolitical reasons:

  • Even the perception that Iran had the technological ability to pursue nuclear weapons if it so desired could change the military balance and calculus in the region and undermine U.S.-Israeli nuclear hegemony. (Israel has as many as 400 nuclear warheads and is the only regional state which possesses nuclear weapons.)
  • A nuclear program, including one limited to enrichment, could strengthen the IRI economically and politically—inside Iran and in the region. Again, this is seen as going in a direction opposite what the U.S. and Israel are fighting for—the weakening or overthrow of the IRI. It would also tend to compel other regional powers, including Saudi Arabia and Egypt, to develop nuclear programs, and even though these regimes are currently allies of the U.S. a) they aren't stable; and b) the U.S. doesn't want to set off or allow a regional "nuclear arms race" or even nuclear energy race that could spin off in all kinds of unpredictable ways that would further undermine their control over the region.
  • This is why, in previous negotiations, the U.S. and its allies have refused to agree to Iran's right to enrich at any level; they have refused to ease sanctions in return for Iranian concessions; and they have refused to recognize the legitimacy and standing of the Islamic Republic. This is why previous negotiations have fallen apart, even though Iran made clear it was willing to agree to restrictions on its nuclear program and work with the U.S. on other regional issues. Why? Because the issue was never simply preventing Iran from building a bomb—it was ensuring U.S.-Israeli regional hegemony. Meanwhile, the IRI felt it could not agree to Western terms (which amounted to surrender) without seriously weakening its legitimacy and standing (in and out of Iran), even threatening its existence.

The precise terms of the current negotiations are not known. According to news reports, Iran is willing to agree to limits on its nuclear enrichment and to more intrusive and "transparent" inspections, in return for easing of sanctions, acknowledging its basic right to enrich uranium for nuclear power, and an easing overall of Western hostility toward the Islamic Republic.

It is not yet clear how the U.S., Israel, and other world powers will respond to Iran's proposal and exactly how they see advancing their imperialist interests in the region and toward Iran. However, it's important to understand that both the U.S. and Iran are confronted with their own set of major necessities, including the deep fissures and rapidly changing situation across the region from North Africa, through the Middle East, to Central Asia.

Send us your comments.

If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.