After the “key parameters” reached in Lausanne on April 2, 2015, the talks between Tehran and the P5+1 over Iran’s nuclear program have continued on a very bumpy path. The talks and the crucial question about what Iran can or cannot do with fissile materials are currently the most important strategic issue for most powerful countries in the world, second-to-none, not even to Iraq, Syria and the dramatic offensive led by ISIS. The Iran talks are at the very confluence of contradictory interests which are “crystallizing” up to a tension point that yesterday’s best friends could become today’s fiercest adversaries, at least for the duration of the talks. For instance, the relationship between US President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu has deteriorated to a rare mutual distrust. The two leaders seem to have completely opposite stance on Iran.
On the one hand, Obama thinks he can make Iran a “respectable member” of the international community anew in exchange for a comprehensive strong agreement that prevents Iran from building nuclear weapons. On the other hand, Netanyahu doesn’t trust the Iranian government at all and mostly fears that Obama will commit to a naive agreement that would give Iran just enough time to pursue a policy of “le fait accompli” and become a nuclear-armed nation as a result. To sum up, Obama doesn’t know the Iranians as well as the Israelis do, Netanyahu likely thinks. There is a cultural aspect of such a surprising divide between two historic allies. Indeed, western and middle-eastern diplomats often insist on the high level of both cleverness and deception on the part of the Iranians, a reputation that dates back from the Persian Empire and that would contribute a lot to the current atmosphere of mistrust over Iran’s alleged real intentions.
The pressure on the Obama administration from the Arab countries, particularly Saudi Arabia, is like a huge hole on the road towards a final agreement with Iran. Arab countries fear Iran’s regional ambitions more than anything else, and a bit like Israel, they see Iran as an existential threat. In addition to the proliferation issue and the place Iran should play or not in the Middle East, there is against the background the Fitna, a centuries-long religious conflict between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, a bloody war that is still killing today thousands of people every month. Thus, beyond the nuclear issue, highly sensitive historic and religious considerations hamper a final international accord on Iran’s nuclear program. Furthermore, were an accord to be signed, and considering the general mistrust between all the parties, there would be no guarantee that Iran’s rivals would not prepare secretly for a nuclear-armed Iran by building a nuke for themselves too. And Iran as the sole nuclear issue in the Middle East could be remembered someday as “good old times.”