Foreign Ministers from the US, UK, Russia, China, France and Germany have extended the deadline of high-level talks with Iran to scale back its nuclear program in return for reducing UN sanctions. The talks had reached the deadline of the 24th November 2014 and the extension is until the end of June. The P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) are looking to bring about a change in Iran’s nuclear program. The talks are based on an agreement reached last year under which Iran was to curtail its uranium enrichment program in return for sanctions relief.
Iran has a history of a challenging relationship with Western nations, especially the US, which lends importance to these talks and the prospect of the improvement of relations with Iran. Under Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi’s rule Iran was seen as a pivotal US ally in the Middle East until the regime change to a more conservative Islamic government that came with the Iranian revolution in 1979.
Ayatollah Khomeini rose to power and formed a new government which led to the establishment of Iran as an Islamic republic and the adoption of a theocratic constitution. Ayatollah Khomeini’s successor, Ayatollah Montazeri, called for the liberalisation of Iran and challenged Khomeini about the success of his rule. Ayatollah Khomeini then proceeded to remove Montazeri and helped install Ayatollah Khamenei. The position of Ayatollah is seen as supreme leader of Iran and is the highest political and religious authority in the country.
Throughout Iran’s nuclear enrichment, Tehran has maintained that nuclear armament is far from its goal however that it wanted to develop atomic energy. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is looking to reverse the economic isolation that sanctions have resulted in and look to boost Iran’s economy through the exportation of oil and the growth in investment that sanctions restrain. According to the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), Iran has proven oil reserves of over 157 billion barrels the sale of which might significantly boost the Iranian economy as it historically has throughout Iran’s economic development.
The negotiators in the talks have come with different objectives focusing on uranium enrichment, sanctions reduction and explanation of possible nuclear armament. Iran aims to use nuclear energy to provide power whilst the other states involved may be looking for a reduction in Iran’s nuclear enrichment to reduce levels to prevent possible armament. Furthermore, Iran may be inclined to have UN sanctions lifted immediately whereas Western states would rather a gradual removal of sanctions to encourage Iran to keep any promises made in the talks. Also, the talks face a key challenge in the potential nuclear armament tests which it is suspected that Iran have attempted and the rebuffing of calls for nuclear inspectors to investigate its facilities.
Should an agreement be reached between the negotiators before the end of June it might have wide ranging effects on relations internationally and those within the Middle East. In Iran, the P5+1 might establish an important ally in a region that has been challenging for them in the perspective of foreign policy. The test that ISIS presents to the region may also sooth relationships Iran has with its neighbours as it may need to coordinate with the Gulf States including Saudi Arabia in its response to the organisation. Furthermore, as the P5+1 has looked to challenge the rise of ISIS it may find Iran to be an important and valuable ally within the Middle East.
The extension to the talks is a sign of the importance which parties feel regarding the talks having to reach an agreement some point in the future. Any breakthrough made in the future might be significantly important to the future of both the Middle East and International relations as it may see the improvement of relations between the P5+1 and Iran. Furthermore, the removal of sanctions may improve Iran’s position internationally and domestically whilst improving relations with the P5+1. Considering the challenges that relations between these parties have faced it may highlight the importance of diplomatic solutions in both the Middle East and on an international scale.
How might the extension of the talks offer productive changes to the negotiations?