Today the Obama administration begins the most important American diplomatic engagement with Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The public revelation of the Qom enrichment facility and Iran’s provocative ballistic missile test on Monday demonstrate what is at stake. Iran has increased its low-enriched uranium 20-fold since 2007, enough to produce, eventually, at least one nuclear weapon after further enrichment.
These are ominous developments. But after years of policy drift and transatlantic disagreement, the US and its allies will enter the talks in a position of relative strength and unity.
Consider the view from Tehran. It is on the defensive – caught red-handed in another nuclear deception. In contrast to the rancorous run-up to the war in Iraq, America and Europe are increasingly reading from the same script and Russia is signalling an openness to further sanctions.
The walkout of dozens of delegates during Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad’s anti-Semitic speech at the UN last week highlights Iran’s diplomatic isolation. Deciding the reputational and political risks are too great, many international banks and oil-trading companies have withdrawn voluntarily from Iran, which must import a third of its refined petroleum.