3 July 2014, 18:09

No one would sabotage Iran nuclear talks that could bring win-win deal for all

No one would sabotage Iran nuclear talks that could bring win-win deal for all

The talks between the P5+1 countries and Iran on Tehran's controversial nuclear program are approaching the climax as the latest, and decisive, round of negotiations has begun on Thursday, June 3. Many hope that the comprehensive agreement could be struck before the fast approaching July 20 deadline set by the interim accord in November.

According to RIA Novosti news agency, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said that there is no room for mistake and we cannot leave Vienna without reaching an agreement.

There are some significant economic and political factors working in favor of the deal, believes Valerie Lincy, executive director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control. The Iranian side has expressed real desire for sanctions relief. She recalls that "President Hassan Rouhani was elected to deliver on that". The Obama administration strives to "settle the issue and get a foreign policy win". These are the elements that would encourage both sides to reach compromises.

A landmark tentative deal came on November 24th, 2013. It turned out that the US and Iran had been holding secret bilateral talks on the topic long before this. The talks were confidential because both countries do not have any official relations with one another. When the next round of talks on this subject commenced in Geneva at that time, Iran agreed to the historic deal. Among the measures it agreed to was to stop enriching uranium past 5% and not stockpile it. This would be done in exchange for easing the sanctions that plagued the country’s economy. At the time, it was also agreed that a final deal would be reached on July 20th.

The assumption that P5+1 countries, that include the United States, Russia, Great Britain, China, France, and Germany, and Iran are slowly bridging the divide may be evidenced by the progress on the Arak issue. "One of the points of the discussion is to modify the Arak heavy water reactor to use lightly enriched uranium and potentially be moderated by light water. Another option would be to reduce the power of the reactor to smaller than 40 MW, to reduce the amount of plutonium that spent fuel will contain." Ms. Lincy says that judging by the press reports that particular matter could well be resolved.

Arak clearly demonstrates that the devil is in the detail and the specifics of the agreement are one of the reasons hampering the negotiation process. "As we've seen from the last several rounds of talks both sides are quite far apart in terms of what Iran wants to pursue and what P5+1 group wants Tehran to give up for a period of at least several years." The main point of contention is the scope of Iranian enrichment program. The fact that "over the past couple of months we haven't seen both sides move much closer together" is unsettling.

In no small measure the fact that the deal has not been signed can be attributed to the P5+1 group remaining doubtful of Iraq's true intentions regarding the nuclear program. In an opinion peace published in the Washington Post on June 13, Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran's foreign minister, tries to dispel fears by explaining that Tehran never opted for developing nuclear weapons, even when Iran's relations with the West hit rock bottom in 2005 – 2013. He alleges that Western countries generated negative media hype by persistently maintaining that the Islamic republic does not provide enough guarantees and is only months away from acquiring nuclear weapons. "It will be … ironic if this hype torpedoes a deal that is the surest and safest way to preclude proliferation", says Zarif.

In a video titled "Iran's message: We can make history", published on June 2, the diplomat also warns that "pursuing a game of chicken in an attempt to extract last minute concessions cannot achieve anything better than what it achieved in 2005". He adds that sanctions, though crippling and deadly, could not "bring Iranian people to kneel in submission" and will never be able to achieve that.

The US hailed Iranian steps toward the deal. In an opinion article US State Secretary John Kerry stresses that the Islamic republic has "defied the expectations of some by meeting its obligations under the Joint Plan of Action, which has allowed time and space for the comprehensive negotiations to proceed". He explains that Iran is in the process of eliminating its stockpile of higher levels of enriched uranium. Kerry also admits that Iran limited its enrichment capability, refrained from making further advances at its enrichment facilities and heavy-water reactor, and allowed new and more frequent inspections.

The Iranian nuclear issue had resulted in harsh rhetoric from both sides. In the past, the US and Israel spoke about bombing Iran, if necessary, to stop it from obtaining a nuclear weapon. For its part, Iran threatened to close off the strategic Strait of Hormuz, through which a lot of the world’s oil flows. Since the November 2013 deal, tensions have relatively cooled and hostile rhetoric has decreased. This is all the more interesting since a National Intelligence Estimate by the US in 2007 found that Iran stopped its nuclear weapons program in 2003 and had not restarted it. This was twice confirmed in 2010 and 2012.

Yet, the United States remains unconvinced of Iran's true intentions. Kerry insists that "substantial gaps still exist between what Iran's negotiators say they are willing to do and what they must do" to achieve a deal. He also states that "we know that their public optimism about the potential outcome of these negotiations has not been matched, to date, by the positions they have articulated behind closed doors".

Kerry stresses that the West has been flexible and attentive to Iran's wishes and fears and it's the Islamic republic that is supposed to deliver. US State Secretary reiterates that the talks have a chance to succeed but maintains that if Iran is not ready to provide guarantees "international sanctions will tighten and Iran's isolation will deepen".

There are reports that hardliners in Iran and some conservatives in the US are against the deal. But neither of those elements on their own would be able to prevent it from being reached. Still if the agreement is not signed there will be people on both sides who will point fingers and blame the opposite party. "That's a natural thing that could happen if the talks don't succeed", states Ms. Lincy. Nevertheless, the researcher stresses that "in terms of the parties involved in the talks I don't see anyone really wanting to sabotage the talks."

Ms. Lincy also ponders that if the deal is reached the Obama administration should not encounter any problems selling it to the Republicans. At least "from what the administration is saying, they are going to maintain the position that is largely in line with what people in Congress believe to be the right position". Presumably, then the Republicans will support any deal that Obama administration delivers.

Although Iran nuclear talks are a separate issue recent developments in the Middle East cannot be ignored, in particular the insurgence of Islamists in northern Iraq. Whether Tehran can use it as a leverage in the negotiations remains to be seen. Ms. Lincy admitted that in that respect the country has overlapping interests with the US. "But I would not go that far so as to say that it gives the Iranians additional leverage.

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