Studio guest Andrei Fyodorov, former Deputy Foreign Minister of Russia, Director of the Center for Political Research Foundation in Moscow, Russia, Dr. Amnon Aran from the Department of International Politics at the City University of London, UK, Anton Khlopkov, Director of the Center for Energy and Security Studies, editor-in-chief of “Nuclear club” magazine, Russia, and Sergei Batcanov, Director of Geneva Office, Pugwash Conference of Science and Word Affairs, shared their opinions with Radio Sputnik.
What was the major stumbling block that prevented the deal?
Andrei Fyodorov: A very pragmatic technical issue – the number of centrifuges and the question of the use of enriched uranium. These are technical things, but they have a very serious political meaning. And the other thing is that at this stage the US is in a quite difficult situation. They need Iran as a partner in fighting the IS, but, at the same time, they are very much afraid that if all the sanctions will be lifted, Iran will again be the center of concentration of forces in the Islamic world. And it will make Iran a very strong state, and still could be the danger for Israel. So, it is a kind of trap.
For us, the results are good and bad at the same time. Bad, because we wanted to reach an agreement and the Russian diplomacy made a lot for it. Anyway, we will continue our cooperation with Iran. The good thing is that these sanctions are still on the way, and this means that Iran will not increase the oil production which will kill the oil prices finally.
Do you think the agreement on the Iranian nuclear program in sight at some point in the future?
Amnon Aran: I think the question of whether a permanent deal is in sight really depends on the ability of both the Iranian politicians, especially Foreign Minister Zarif, but of course the Obama administration to be able to politically pass any future agreement between them to their respective hardliners both in the US and in Iran. So, it is still very much a work in progress which will evolve over the next 7 months.
You’ve mentioned the hardliners. How influential are those in both the US and Iran?
Amnon Aran: Obviously both are quite influential. Following now the midterm elections in the US we've got a much stronger Republican presence in this whole process. The Congress can have a significant say and the Republicans will less amenable than the Democrats to sanction an agreement in the first place. And the question in Iran as well, especially the circles connected to the Revolutionary Guard and those that have been opposed to the negotiations with the West, is of course the degree to which Iran will be obliged to wait until the sanctions are lifted.
So, within Iran there are quite significant hardliners who would object to any kind of deal which would not involve an immediate lifting of sanctions. And the French and the Americans are talking about a much longer period, at least the minimum three years at the moment. So, the input that the hardliners will have on any ability to strike a deal is quite significant at the moment, in addition to the technical problems, which are really connected to this political opposition.
How much of a pressure is the business community actually putting on those talks from the EU side?
Amnon Aran: I think the business community is active, but it is still one circle outside the politicians. The main difficult will still remain to pass any future deal vis-à-vis the hardline political circles. And I think business will not be able to override the influence of hardliners, certainly not the European businesses vis-à-vis the US. That will not have a significant impact on whatever the Republican votes, and even some segments of the Obama administration itself, that won’t have a significant impact on the stance that they will ultimately adopt seven months from now.
What is the main disagreement in those talks? What prevented the agreement to be found at this time?
Sergei Batcanov: I think that yes, a serious progress has been made, but, probably, not enough to materialize. And that’s why it is difficult to talk about the main disagreements, because there still are areas which are, let’s say, officially not closed – the areas of disagreement – where the progress has been made, but facing the inability to strike the right balances the ministers and their teams actually could not identify any single biggest problem. That said, I think at the end it runs into the difficulties with the suspension and removal of the US sanctions.
Why did the talks fail to come to an agreement this time?
Anton Khlopkov: I think that some parties of the talks overestimated how much other parties need this comprehensive deal and raised the expectations from the meeting in Vienna. So, I do believe that still we do have time and opportunity to reach the deal, but all parties in the talks should be realistic in their expectations from the meeting.
Who is dragging the feet?
Anton Khlopkov: There are a few dimensions here. First, I think there is a couple of technical problems which still exist – how many centrifuges Iran may have and for how long this comprehensive agreement should be enforced. But my impression is that these technical problems can be resolved with the negotiations and all the parties have already demonstrated their readiness to solve these issues. I don’t think that the gap between the two sides of the negotiations is big on those particular issues.
But what would be really needed to have a deal by the end of June next year is the additional political will, first of all, in Washington and Tehran, because, first of all, this is the negotiation between these two sides. All the other countries, including Russia are the important players, but the two key players are Iran and the US. This is, first of all, the crisis of the lack of trust between these two sides and the nuclear issue is an important one, but the problem is much more comprehensive than that.
What is it exactly that Tehran wants? Who is having to compromise more on this issue, is it the West or Iran?
Anton Khlopkov: I think this is both and the responsibility is equal. But, as I've mentioned, all the sides should be realistic about what they would like to get at the end of these negotiations. Iran should be realistic about what kind of sanctions can be removed as the result of that comprehensive deal, because, as we know, not all the sanctions can be removed, especially the unilateral sanctions by Obama and his team with no involvement of Congress. After the recent elections in the US, I don’t think it is realistic to expect that all the sanctions may be removed. I think that both sides of the negotiations should make an extra step to have a deal, but I think both sides should calculate well what is achievable.