The extension of deadline in Iranian nuclear program negotiations has become one of the key news of the week, giving rise to a whole range of different opinions, views and guesses. Yet, there are some moments which are still difficult to explain.
Three days before the November, 24 deadline US President Barak Obama extended the Iranian oil embargo, stopping short of introducing new economic sanctions against Teheran.
The move has hardly helped the negotiating parties. Iran has been insisting on the lifting of economic sanctions in return for a greater flexibility in its nuclear program issue.
"Iran has lived up to its obligations under the interim agreement and its nuclear program has not only been frozen, it has been reversed, Dianne Feinstein, the Chair of the US Senate Intelligence Committee, said. — Today, Iran is further away from acquiring a nuclear weapon than before negotiations began”.
However, instead of lifting the sanctions, the US republicans are eager to introduce new penalties against Iran. "I can guarantee you if Congress passes new unilateral sanctions, the Iranians aren't going to become more accommodating. It'll be quite the opposite," George Perkovich, vice president for studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told AFP.
Well, hawkish lawmakers view it differently and are likely to press for more.
Says Lukasz Kulesa, Research Director, European Leadership Network:
Well, it was not a big surprise that all the sides could not agree to finalize the deal by November 24th. There were simply too many technical details. And also, the political situation was too complicated to make it on time. What is a bit surprising is that there is quite a long time for the extension, until July next year. So, that would suggest that the sides are not at a short distance from the agreement, but there are still big gaps in their positions.
And this is worrying. This is very worrying, because, I think, that was the optimal time to conclude the deal. It would still be a couple of months for the US before the new Congress convenes, which will include many opponents of the deal. So, it would have been a good time for the US to conclude this deal and then have time to defend it, and to show everybody that it works. I think it would be a good time for Iran, since that would be a major boost for the Rouhani presidency.
Right now, we are not privy to all the details of the negotiations, but it seems that it wouldn’t be necessarily easier to have this deal next year, than it was this year.
When you are looking at the position of the US, the mere fact that they took a decision to extend the term of sanctions against Iran in the middle of the talks, virtually, do we need to understand that they are not exactly keen on reaching this agreement?
Lukasz Kulesa: Regarding the position of the US, actually, no new sanctions were introduced. And there was an attempt in the US Congress to introduce new sanctions, and it was blocked. So, they are merely extending the sanctions that are already in place. And by the way, the same goes for the EU countries. The sanctions are more or less still in place. So, what is extended are just these pretty modest, relieved sanctions, which was agreed with Iran before. So, I don’t really see any break of this interim agreement by the sides of the P5+1. And luckily, I don’t see any sign that the agreement is being breached by Iran. So, this is an optimistic thing that all the sides are still keeping their previous commitments.
But what can be gained in this couple of months. It seems that right now one of the major obstacles is the number of centrifuges and the capability of Iran to do enrichment of uranium. Right now the Iranians want to keep a high number of centrifuges running. The P5+1, including Russia, their official position is that the Iranian capability should be limited. Maybe this couple of months would be used to find a compromise formula, which is below what the Iranians want but still above of the P5+1.
Specifically about Russia, there might be an important part for Moscow to play, because Russia has recently signed an additional agreement with Iran about delivering the new reactors for the nuclear power plants to this country. So, that might be a way to persuade the Iranians that they don’t need to produce their own fuel, but that Russia can produce this fuel and deliver it to the Iranians.
And finally, when we are trying to get a better feeling of the atmosphere of the negotiations, do you think that it has been changing in a way?
Lukasz Kulesa: Well, everybody is telling that the atmosphere of the negotiations is very much business-like, that all the sides managed to get a better knowledge of their counterparts and there isn’t that much of the ideological hostility between Iran and the US.
But, of course, these are the talks of the diplomats and there are forces within Iran that don’t really want this understanding, that would like to keep the confrontation with the US going. There certainly are forces in the US that don’t want this deal, that are feeling that the US is giving away too much.
And finally, there are countries that are not directly present at these negotiations, but have an important role. I mean Israel, I mean Saudi Arabia. These countries are putting a strong pressure not only on the US, but also on other countries within P5+1 group, to make sure that their interests would be safeguarded. And of course, they don’t want to have an agreement that gives Iran too much space. So, within the negotiations framework itself the atmosphere is apparently pretty good, but of course it doesn’t mean that the diplomats would make concessions that are contrary to their national interests.
Says Professor Seyed Mohammad Marandi, Tehran University:
The most important problem is that the US has so far been unable to change its policy and attitude towards Iran in a fundamental way. The conditions were ripe for an agreement and the new administration in Iran under President Rouhani has been very flexible. And this is something that even the Western leaders have admitted on numerous occasions. But the US basically failed to show any real flexibility and the ability to accept Iran’s right within the framework of international law.
From the Iranian perspective, that is largely because the US really has yet to recognize the post-revolutionary Iran. So, unless the US comes to terms with the reality on the ground in Iran, I don’t think that we are going to see an agreement any time soon. As President Rouhani has specifically said – Iran will not accept nuclear apartheid.
So, in order for an agreement to take place the US has to accept Iran’s full right to have a peaceful nuclear program and to enrich uranium as well, and they must remove all the sanctions ultimately. And the Iranians on their behalf are willing to be as flexible as possible, to be as open as necessary to answer any questions that the Western countries may have. But real problem lies in Washington.
Some experts tend to describe the outcome as a failure. However, we know that Iran and Russia believe that a progress has been made. What is your take?
Prof. Seyed Mohammad Marandi: Some progress has been made, without a doubt. And what is important to note is that it is clear that the international community is not on the side of the US in all this. Russia has had a very progressive role, in the sense that it has fully accepted Iran’s right and it wants an agreement, and so does China. Both of them have played a constructive role. The Iranians feel that some progress has been made, but there are very serious stumbling blocks that remain. And it is for the US to make a decision.
The French, the British and the Germans are declining powers, and the Iranians notice that they are really unwilling to take a decision independent of the US. They will look to the US ultimately and see what the Americans are saying. So, the problem really lies between Iran and the US. The US can’t expect to impose the restrictions on Iran permanently or long-term restrictions in any way or form. That goes against Iran’s right within the framework of the NPT and the IAEA. The Iranians are willing to slow down some elements of its nuclear program in order to build trust. They are willing to be flexible in order to create confidence, but they are not willing at all to sacrifice their right.
It seems that the Americans are still hoping that somehow the Iranians will capitulate and forfeit their right, and that is simply not going to happen. But the Iranians feel that time is on their side, because the US is facing increasing problems at home because of the economy and social difficulties, and abroad because of America’s simultaneous aggressive posturing towards Russia, towards China and towards Iran, and also because of the disaster that the Americans have created with their unholy alliance with Saudi Arabia and Turkey that has led to the rise of the ISIL and other extremists.
So, the US needs Iran and the Iranians recognize that. The Iranians feel that, ultimately, the Americans are going to have to come to an agreement with Iran, otherwise, if they don’t, the international community will begin to more seriously reconsider their policies and countries will start ignoring the US sanctions and the US threats more and more.
What could be the logic behind the US moves? In the middle of the negotiations, but they are extending the term of sanctions against Iran…
Prof. Seyed Mohammad Marandi: It is difficult to really understand the logic of the US at times. But there is a number of important elements. One is the Israeli lobby. The Israelis are adamant to keep the region from settling its problems, from solving its problems. And so, in fact, it has been pressuring the US not to come to an agreement with Iran. The Saudis, too, have policies very similar to Israel and they are very closely aligned on many key issues, such as with regards to the Palestinians and Syria, and Iraq, and Iran. They, too, do not want an agreement and they are trying to prevent the US and its allies from moving towards a rapprochement.
Another problem is that the US President is a very weak president. He is unable to really make serious decisions. This is what the Iranians have experienced over the past few years, even when he didn’t have a problem with Congress, because up till now it was in the hands of the Democrats. But the US Government is a weak government. And now with the Republicans in charge of the House and the Senate, it seems that the US going to move into a period where the decision making is even more difficult.
And in general, it is also linked to the arrogance of empires. The US is still unwilling to accept the fact that Iran is a sovereign and independent country, and it will not accept the American hegemony. And the more the US pushes Iran, the more it pushes Russia and the more it pushes China, actually it helps to unite these countries and other non-Western countries, and it moves them closer towards each other. So, the US is hurting itself more than anyone else through its misguided policies.
Which means that all those factors would hardly change by the 1st of July 2015, which is the new deadline. So, how do you see the negotiations are going to develop? Do you think that the parties would still be able to come to an agreement or the deadline would be moved again?
Prof. Seyed Mohammad Marandi: It is hard to say at this stage. If there is some major change in the region… for example, the Saudi King is old and very frail, and could die at any moment. And the ISIL is the threat to Saudi Arabia. If something happens to Saudi Arabia, that would, I think, change the American calculation very quickly. At the moment I don’t see a reason why there will a comprehensive agreement, because I don’t believe the Americans have the will or the sense, or the maturity to sign such an agreement at this stage. But if there is no agreement, there may be a further extension.
But more importantly, countries like Iran and China are moving much closer towards each other. The Chinese President is coming to Iran in two or three months. Iran and Russia are moving closer towards each other. Russia also faces the American sanctions. This is something that concerns China too. So, these countries, along with other countries then would be thinking about alternative means for trade and to start ignoring the Western monetary system and institutions, and creating the alternatives ones, so that the US could no longer hurt the countries through sanctions.