I note an article by James Blitz in The Financial Times, "Pressure Builds in Iran Nuclear Stand-off".
The first half of the article, fed by unnamed Western officials, is the standard line on Tehran's imminent danger: "Tehran is getting closer to the point where it might be able to make a sudden dash for a nuclear bomb, without the US and Israel being able to stop it through military action."
Blitz is unable to critique this unsupported assertion because he shows no understanding about new centrifuges at the Natanz enrichment plant --- they are for 5% uranium, not even the 20% that the US and Europe fears could be enriched further for a nuclear warhead --- and he is not aware of the conversion of a significant portion of Iran's 20% stock to fuel plates, which cannot be used in a military programme.
However, he does have value as a conduit for the second message from the Western officials:
Western diplomats are increasingly confident that the weight of those sanctions will soon force the Iranians to back down.
According to European diplomats, the imposition of energy sanctions ast year meant Iran has now lost $46bn of oil revenues, a loss equivalent to 8 per cent of its annual gross domestic product. The rial meanwhile has lost 40 per cent of its value in recent times....
“The Iranian public’s purchasing power is declining all the time,” says one diplomat. “The regime cannot live with this for much longer.”
So the US-European strategy is to continue with aggressive sanctions to force Iranian concessions --- the "stop, shut, and ship" of suspended 20% enrichment, transfer of 20% stock out of Iran, and closure of the Fordoo enrichment plant --- at the outset of any negotiations.
But when will that occur? Certainly not at the forthcoming talks on 26 February in Kazakhstan between Iran and the 5+1 Powers (US, Britain, France, Germany, China, and Russia)? Blitz, assisted by his Western officials, gives the answer:
If there is to a breakthrough, when could it happen? Most experts seem to think it will not come for at least another six months.
First, the supreme leader will not want to make any concessions before the presidential elections in June. According to western diplomats, his aim is to see Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, the current president, out of power. He does not want to give Mr Ahmadi-Nejad the chance to claim that he personally brokered a nuclear deal with the west.
Second, the US and its allies are prepared to be patient. They want to woo Iran towards a deal. But they also believe that the pain of economic sanctions means that time is not on the Iranian regime’s side.
If no Iran surrender is imminent, why even go to the negotiating table now?
Israel will not go it alone with pre-emptive military action against Iran as it threatened last year. The Israeli military establishment believes it cannot act without US support. Israel is therefore prepared to give diplomacy a little more time.
"Holding" talks now, to keep the military option at bay, with a "real" high-level engagement in September --- that's the US-European plan.
Blitz's revelations expose other postures, such as the dangling by the US of an "offer" this week: if Iran accepts "stop, shut, and ship", then Washington will suspend sanctions, imposed on 6 February, on the transfer of gold and precious metals to Iran.
Certainly, if Tehran jumped up to accept that deal --- which does nothing with the pre-6 February 2013 sanctions, such as the bans and barriers to financial transactions cutting its oil revenue in half --- then Washington will shake the Islamic Republic's hand.
But Iran is not going to do that.