Gregg Laskoski is a senior petroleum analyst for GasBuddy.com.
Americans have to pay attention to saber rattling. When it comes from an oil-producing nation in the Middle East, it makes commodity markets jump. In February, it pushed crude oil to $109 per barrel and the U.S. average price of gasoline north of $3.90 per gallon. Both stayed near that level until Iran quieted down and agreed to come to the bargaining table.
In April we were told that the first round of negotiations between Iran and the U.N. Security Council made progress but more time was needed to bring peaceful resolution that would effectively nullify Iran's pursuit of nuclear weapons.
In May, round two in Baghdad was just completed. European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who is formally leading the talks, declared, "It is clear that we both want to make progress, and that there is some common ground. However…" (Those 'howevers' can kill you!) "significant differences remain. Nonetheless, we do agree on the need for further discussion to expand that common ground."
Other assessments of the talks are less promising. The Jerusalem Post says the negotiations are failing because there is no evidence Iran is serious about curbing its nuclear programs. Nonetheless, both sides have agreed to round three in Moscow, June 18-19.
Kenneth Timmerman, executive director of the Foundation for Democracy in Iran, wrote last week that if the only issue of substance coming from these negotiations is the scheduling of future meetings, than Iran's words have tipped the scales in its favor.
The very same centrifuges that spin uranium gas to 3 percent enrichment, to make fuel for nuclear power plants can spin a bit longer to enrich the gas to 90 percent to make nuclear weapons material. Same centrifuges, same process, same materials. The only added ingredient is time.
U.N. inspectors said last week that they visited a plant near Qom and found hundreds of newly installed centrifuges jacking up weapons-grade uranium but Iran said not to worry—it was just a technical glitch.
Regardless, Congress wrote a letter to help guide President Obama. Seventy-one out of 435 members of the House of Representatives signed a letter saying they are aware of "the possibility that the Iranian regime is simply 'buying time' to further its nuclear ambitions, but we believe Iran's openness to multilateral discussions…is sufficient to warrant renewed determination."
If an agreement is somehow reached this summer, a calmer Middle East could push crude oil down to $85 per barrel—welcome news for E.U. countries and U.S. consumers who will be in the midst of summer driving season. If not, could round four be far off? More importantly, how long does anyone in Washington think Israel will watch in silence?
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