Iran Grasps for Leverage Ahead of Nuclear Talks

Tehran struck a deal on nuclear inspections, but a Baghdad breakthrough remains unlikely.

By + More

Iran's decision to allow U.N. officials to inspect an alleged nuclear weapons site is an attempt to secure leverage over western officials on the eve of high-level talks and perhaps avert a European Union oil embargo, national security officials say.

Yukiya Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, announced a deal Tuesday near Vienna, Austria, that would allow IAEA inspectors inside a facility believed to host tests related to Tehran's nuclear arms program, according to the Associated Press. A formal pact should be "signed quite soon," Amano said, according to the AP.

The apparent deal comes one day before an Iranian delegation is slated to meet with U.S. and other western officials in Baghdad about a path toward a deal under which Tehran would abandon its nuclear weapons program.

[Photo Gallery: NATO Summit in Chicago]

Tehran wants "to ease tensions," says Alireza Nader, an analyst at the RAND Corporation. "It wants to show the world, especially countries like China, that it is amenable to compromise."

U.S. officials say Iranian leaders are feeling financial pain from stiffer economic sanctions recently put in place, and are interested in finding a way to ward off a European Union oil embargo set to take effect in July.

Tehran might attempt to use the IAEA deal as leverage during the Baghdad talks for an easing of the latter, Nader says.

Experts say it is unlikely the Baghdad talks will spawn a deal under which Iran will abandon its nuclear ambitions.

"We may have a long way ahead," Nader says. "However, the talks may buy the United States time to stop the Iranian nuclear program without resorting to a costly military conflict. The Iranian economy and the Iranian regime are under severe pressure. Iran is less likely to weaponize its program given the increasing economic and political costs. The immediate U.S. objective should be to stop Iran from weaponizing, and persuade Israel not to attack Iran."

Tehran also is trying to buy time.

"I am deeply concerned that the so-called agreement reached between Iran and the IAEA will only be used as yet another stalling tactic to afford the Iranian regime greater time to acquire nuclear weapons capabilities," House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican, said in a statement.

"It's deja vu all over again. It has been 10 years since Iran's covert nuclear program was discovered by the IAEA after decades had gone by when the regime successfully hid its nuclear activities from the world," she said. "It has been 10 years of manipulation by Tehran of international inspections. ... Yet, the IAEA seems content to give Iran a pass in exchange for yet more empty promises."

Dennis Ross, a senior U.S. diplomat and presidential adviser under Bush, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama, warned during a forum last week that leaders in Tehran "flimflam us all the time." Tehran--like North Korea--often uses diplomatic negotiations as a way to delay military action or the enactment of stiff economic sanctions.

So while the U.N. Security Council nations and a stubborn, nuclear-aspiring regime engage in what appears to be a process of negotiations, Ross said, "they continue to develop their [atomic weapons] program year after year."

John T. Bennett covers national security and foreign policy for U.S. News & World Report. You can contact him at jbennett@usnews.com or follow him on Twitter.

  • Former Officials: 2012 U.S., Israel Attack on Iran Unlikely
  • Debate Club: Obama Learned From Bush's Mistakes and Successes
  • Check out the latest in-depth defense coverage in the U.S. News Weekly