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Dunsmore: Last Minute Haggling

There could be a final agreement within hours. It might take another week. Or the talks could fall apart completely. Still, the two sides have never been closer to a deal to stop Iran from building a nuclear weapon - in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions imposed on the Iranians by the international community.

The last minute haggling involves Iranian insistence that United Nations embargos on conventional arms sales to and from Iran also be lifted. America is pushing back, as this would facilitate further Iranian arms shipments to its Shiite proxies in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen. The details of on-site inspections by the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency and the schedule of the lifting of sanctions are believed to be the other stumbling blocks.

So far, the international coalition seems to be holding, but It can be assumed that all of the parties – Iran, the U.S., Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China are doing last minute, individual cost/benefit analyses. Even having come so close to an agreement, each country will now be calculating if ultimately, it will be better off with or without a deal. The two countries with the most at stake are Iran and the United States.

Seemingly, a deal is better for both of them. With sanctions lifted Iran’s economy will begin to rapidly grow again. America, having committed itself to using force, if necessary, to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon, would much prefer to see this resolved without another disastrous Middle East War.

But how about this scenario? Negotiations end unsuccessfully and the Iranians immediately go on the offensive claiming that America’s last minute demands were to blame for the failure of diplomacy. Even if it weren’t true, before long numerous countries in Europe and Asia - especially Russia and China who both have arms and oil deals with Iran already in the works – would use this as an excuse to drop their own Iranian sanctions and their support for those imposed by the U.N. The complete collapse of international Iranian sanctions could happen within a year.

Iran would then be mostly free of sanctions - while also free of significant restrictions on its nuclear program. It might choose to go ahead and build a bomb - which it could do in three months - or maybe not. But in either case, that would leave America guessing because it would not have the benefit of information from intrusive U.N. on-site nuclear inspections.

The failure scenario is plausible – and would no doubt please Republican critics and Israel who want no deal at all with Iran. But it would leave an already unstable region, ever more volatile.

Barrie Dunsmore is a veteran diplomatic and foreign correspondent for ABC News, now living in Charlotte.
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