Iran nuclear deal: 'Stakes are too high for US'

US Secretary of State John Kerry (L), US Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz (2L), Robert Malley (3L), of the US National Security Council, European Union High Representative Federica Mogherini (C), Head of Iranian Atomic Energy Organisation Ali Akbar Salehi (2R), Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif (R) and others wait for a meeting at the Beau Rivage Palace Hotel on March 27, 2015 in Lausanne.(Reuters / Brendan Smialowski)
The US has put the highest priority on a possible Iran nuclear deal as it might restrict its nuclear breakout capability to a minimum of one year and, help develop trust between Iran and the West, says Paul Heroux, Middle East expert.

Nuclear talks between the US and Iran have resumed in the Swiss resort of Lausanne, with just a week left before a deadline expires to secure a deal. The deal has drawn heavy criticism from conservative lawmakers in Washington, Israel, and Saudi Arabia.

Riyadh has warned it may expand its own nuclear program if Tehran is allowed to continue enriching uranium. However, the White House has made reaching an agreement a top priority.

RT:The clock's ticking down to the end of the month when an agreement is supposed to be reached. Does it look like there will be one by the deadline?

Paul Heroux: I think we are going to have some type of agreement in terms of the general framework, but one of the sticking points that have recently appeared is that Iran is not really willing to put a signature to anything. This kind of view is something that they would like to see is more of a verbal agreement rather than a written agreement. And that’s been a new wrinkle in the negotiations. But I do believe that something is going to come about with the reduction in the number of the centrifuges and the timeline of the sanctions.

READ MORE: US proposes to let Iran operate fortified nuclear site – reports

RT:Why is Washington putting the Iran deal higher on its list of priorities than keeping Israel and Saudi Arabia happy?

PH: I think one of the reasons why the US is putting this as a high priority, or even a higher priority than keeping some of its traditional long-standing allies happy, is because the stakes are so high. Right now we have Iran in a situation where it’s a breakout capacity of about three months from this given period of time. But the negotiations are looking to make that breakout period a minimum of one year and that would go on for about a period of about ten years. So I think the stakes are too high to walk away from the negotiations. And Israel’s PM Benjamin Netanyahu said that no deal is better than the deal that the Obama administration is negotiating right now. I disagree with that. I think that the deal that the Obama administration is negotiating right now is actually a very good deal. This is a deal that could help develop trust between the US and Iran, and Iran and the rest of the West over the next ten years.

RT:Let's put it into context with what's happening in Yemen. We've got the government supported by the US pushed out by Iran-backed rebels. Is that likely to sour the negotiations?

PH: The deal is being looked at right now is looking to reduce the number of centrifuges from about 20,000 centrifuges to about between 6,000-7,000 centrifuges. It also wants to decrease the amount of enriched uranium from about 8,000 grams to about 1,000 grams. Now 1,000 grams is still enough to make nuclear bombs, however it’s sort of at that threshold point where a lot of it is going to be used for peaceful nuclear energy. And something that is really worth noting is that there is no evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program. We know they have a nuclear program but that program is designed for intentionally peaceful purposes. So there has been no silver bullet that says no mushroom cloud, if you will, that says that there really is a weapons program. What we have is a situation with not a lot of trust is between Iran and the rest of the world.

Reuters / Heinz-Peter Bader

RT:The Israeli Prime Minister says he will continue to work to disrupt the potential deal with Iran. But can he do anything to prevent it?

PH: What Israel has been trying to do, has been mostly of a political nature. At this point I think the only thing that Israel could probably do to disrupt the negotiations is to take military action. Other than that I think they’ve done everything they can. The PM spoke before the US Congress and gave his strongest possible case he could. However, there was nothing really new delivered in that speech before Congress earlier this month. The PM also basically has been working with Republicans, hardliners in the US, to try and derail this negotiations and that hasn’t happened. So I think if anything was going to happen it would have been done by now - that short of military action against Iran.

RT:Does the US consider Iran negotiations and the Yemen crisis related?

PH: The US negotiators are probably looking at what’s happening in Yemen as a separate issue. It is certainly related because you do have the Iranian-backed forces in Yemen. However the history of the US has shown that we will negotiate in silos. So for example with certain countries around the worldwe have diplomatic relationships, economic relationships, military partnerships with various countries but their human rights records are not to be desired to put it mildly. So I believe once again that stakes are too high to walk away from the negotiating table or to try and complicate them by bringing in other variables such as Yemen.

READ MORE: Failure to secure Iran nuclear deal could spark MidEast arms race – UK Foreign Sec

50/50 chance of Iran deal

Meanwhile, Hooshang Amir-Ahmadi, founder and President of American Iranian Council thinks that the chances that a deal will be reached are “50/50 at best”.

“I will put the odds in favor of ‘not’,” he told RT. “I believe that there is a lot of dream thinking and optimism that is not warranted.”

All the issues between the sides that existed from the very beginning are still on the table, including the enrichment capacity, the time framework, Iran’s research and development capability, and the lifting of sanctions, he said.

“I don’t know what this optimism is all about. A major game is being played here, and I think it is a very sophisticated game that the White House is playing in this so-called negotiation. I don’t think there is a negotiation. After all, there was supposed to be P5+1 that includes Russia, China, France, the UK, [the US], Germany, but seems to me that for all the practical purposes Russia and China have disappeared, and Germany as well. So basically we are really dealing with the US and to some extent France who is on the other side. I feel like there isn’t anything going on there except for the hype,” said Amir-Ahmadi.

What Washington is trying to achieve is “to make Iran make commitments to a nuclear deal. ” Once the deal is reached, the US will simply forget about its own commitments, and put forward new demands for Iran, thinks Amir-Ahmadi.

“What the US is telling Israelis and Saudis: “Wait until I get this deal, and then you would see what happens there after.” I’m not sure if that “after” is at all is good for Iran,” he said.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.