With US-Iran negotiations awaiting the say-so of the new Iranian leader to continue into a seventh round, Donald Forbes asks what the negotiations are really trying to achieve.

Whatever the US-Iran negotiations in Vienna are about is not the revival of President Obama's nuclear agreement. That rust bucket sailed and sank long ago. Iran is technologically already a de facto nuclear power and will become a de jure one in its own time.

The real issue is how the West accommodates itself to a rogue Islamic state which is becoming an intercontinental nuclear threat. Worse, how do we know that Iran will not arm terrorists with dirty suitcase bombs, something it could do without ever officially admitting its true nuclear status.

Iran analysts are asking what President Biden's plan B is if the talks fail. The answer is that there is no plan B because there never was a clear cut plan A. The US finds itself not so much in a Gordian knot as in a fluid situation to which there is no solution unless we become theocratic Iran or they become us.

Trump withdrew from the Obama agreement and relied on sanctions to break Tehran's will. His move did not stop Iran's enrichment programme. It was defensible for Biden, in returning to talks, to think Trump miscalculated. Iran has survived sanctions before and knows the US will not wage open war against it.

The fact that the talks probably are condemned to failure is neither here no there. Even if what they produce is proclaimed a win for both sides, Iran will still be an untrustworthy rogue state. We will have to live with it in the same way that we live with China and Russia. The only thing that would change the outcome would be for the mullahs to lose power which they show no sign of doing.

Trump's re-imposition of sanctions at best undermined the regime with its own people whose actual level of opposition to Islamic government is unknown. Biden's return to the negotiating table is at best a drag on Iran's nuclear evolution which may literally buy time but will not stop it. The Iranians could keep this up for years.

And what are Iranians to hope for after the mullahs are gone? The US has been stunningly inept in its withdrawal from Afghanistan. The West as a model has become retrogressive and fractious, abandoning ideals on which it was built such as democracy and freedom of speech and fetishising destructive issues like race and immigration.

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What is at stake is clear enough; to prevent Iran having the means to blackmail or bomb its neighbours or us, but we do not have the means to stop it achieving nuclear capability.

Estimates of Iranian bomb breakout range from a few weeks to two years which shows how little we know. What we do know is that Iran has missiles with a range of 2,000 km and getting longer, awaiting only nuclear warheads to make it more than a regional super-power.

Obama knew that this could not be prevented. His gamble was that the 2015 agreement would control the rate of Iran's nuclear development and that the mullahs could be coaxed into an alliance of convenience with the US via cash and co-operation. His conception never gained traction in Washington even with many Democrats.

This obstacle remains today. Without a treaty ratified by the senate, a different president could repudiate whatever is agreed in Vienna with a simple executive order as Trump did in 2018. But the effort is worth the try if it keeps Iran even at the outer edge of the Western orbit. We should assume meanwhile that China will never let Iran go broke.

Like Obama, Biden has been called naïve in his approach to Iran. He has built a team in the White House and the State Department which will do its utmost to extract as much as can be from the mullahs while turning a blind eye to Iranian cheating.

The omens have worsened since supreme leader Ali Khameini picked hardliner Ebrahim Raisi as his new president. Iran is attacking oil tankers – but not aggressively enough to invite retaliation – in the Straits of Hormuz while building a pipeline that bypasses the Gulf bottleneck for its own oil exports.

Biden is playing nice though he has let it be known that his patience is limited. Khameini can dismiss this as bluff. Iran is militarily powerful in its own right even if it cannot match the US on the open battlefield, which it will not need to do. Because it knows this, Iran holds the US effectively in check.

Each side holds cards that cancel each other out. If for example Biden threatened to unleash Israel against Iran, Khameini can unleash Hezbollah's rocket arsenal against Israel on whose border it sits in a state of a permanent readiness. China can keep Iran afloat by buying its oil. Biden threatening China with sanctions is unlikely but if he did, the geopolitics would be changed out of recognition.

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