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18:08 GMT +3 hours21 December 2014
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Analysis & Opinion

United States and Iran: Payoff time

Analysis & Opinion
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MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Pyotr Romanov) - The statement by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Washington's readiness to discuss with Iran its nuclear program was expected, as the United States had to find a way out of the dead-end into which it had driven itself.

The Kremlin had firmly refused to vote for the UN Security Council resolution on Iran that stipulated sanctions, saying that there was no alternative to negotiations. On the other hand, in view of the previous format of the talks, Russia's offer amounted to another dead-end. The European intermediaries, including Russia, could not influence Tehran's stand. It was a double stalemate - the U.S. failed to convince Russia, whereas Russia and the other intermediaries failed to convince Tehran.

The new Washington's initiative is shifting the Iranian intrigue to a fundamentally new phase, which may be long or short. Rice said the formal condition for direct talks with Iran was an end to the uranium enrichment program. Tehran, which is satisfied with Washington's initiative, has not said anything regarding this condition.

Therefore, events can develop in at least two different ways.

One is short: Tehran clarifies its stand and agrees to talk without abandoning the right to enrich uranium. So far, the Iranian authorities have said they will never abandon the program.

In this case Tehran would lose the diplomatic game. The United States' show of goodwill and a step towards Tehran, with which it does not even maintain diplomatic relations, would fail to convince Tehran to go its part of the way.

This would put an end to talks, robbing Russia of arguments in favor of negotiations, and clearing the way to sanctions.

An unofficial U.S. source said the text of the UN Security Council resolution on Iran had been harmonized and might be put up for voting if negotiations break down. Sanctions against Iran would be imposed quickly, and all participants in the "Iranian nuclear process" would smoothly proceed in the Iranian labyrinth from one dead-end to another.

The other scenario is somewhat longer: Iran does not say yes or no, which it can do very well, but hints at a desire to negotiate all problems as a package. Russia and the other intermediaries convince Washington to at least listen to Iran's proposals.

Hypothetically, this scenario can have two outcomes.

One, Tehran goes back on all of its previous statements, agrees to halt its uranium enrichment program, and makes a compromise decision that has long been offered by Moscow - to enrich uranium under strict international control at a joint Russian-Iranian venture in Russia.

This may create problems for the Tehran political elite, which will have to explain this U-turn to its people, but the rest of the world will be happy. The United States will not initiate a war against Iran, and Iran will not have nuclear weapons.

Two, the talks take too long and appear ineffective because both Iran and the U.S. refuse to budge. Washington withdraws from the talks, which again brings us to the issue of sanctions. Tehran loses the diplomatic game, and Washington, having learned the lesson of international criticism of its Iraqi campaign, looks as a party that has done its best within the UN framework to avoid a military conflict.

In this case, too, all participants in the "Iranian nuclear process" will move from one dead-end in the Iranian labyrinth to another.

Judging by information available at the moment, Iran does not intend to abandon its uranium enrichment plans, which means that the short scenario is the most probable one.

But one way or another, an outcome is approaching.