4 November 2013, 14:27

Ray of hope in Iran nuclear talks

President of Iran Hassan Rouhani

President of Iran Hassan Rouhani

President of Iran Hassan Rouhani

Tehran is determined to press ahead with nuclear negotiations with the West. Iran’s supreme leader has given strong backing to President Rouhani’s push to continue the talks. The country’s hawks should not accuse Rouhani of compromising with the United States, stated Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He reiterated, though, that he is not optimistic about the outcome of nuclear talks but said he saw no alternative to the negotiations and warned the nation not to trust an enemy who smiles. The Voice of Russia’s Esther Winters spoke with Luciano Zaccara, Professor at Georgetown University in Qatar with a special interest in Iranian policy, who said the negotiators are closing in on a major breakthrough.

Iran's supreme leader says he is skeptical about the nuclear negotiations in Geneva due to start again later on this week. Many news analysts point out that no major breakthrough could be expected. What do you think?

I think yes, something new will happen in these negotiations, although since 2010 when the US rejected a deal proposed by Turkey, we haven't heard anything new from the negotiations. From that time on, direct negotiations between the US and Iran have been a new material to discuss. New measures will be discussed between them. I think that media expectations of additional protocols on the Iranian side will be something new to be discussed.

On the other hand, some degree of expectation of Iranian enrichment from the American side is necessary for a breakthrough. So, we are closer to that agreement. Of course, that doesn't mean they will talk about all the problems in three to six months that were scarcely mentioned a couple of weeks ago or last month. But I think we have to be optimistic on this point.

Some time ago a group of US Senators said they're willing to consider suspending sanctions against Iran, BUT only if Tehran takes significant steps to slow its nuclear program. Is the Iranian government ready to comply with this demand and other demands put forward by the West?

We have to bear in mind that Rouhani was the one who was negotiating when Iran unilaterally decided to stop some part of their nuclear program in order to build confidence at the negotiations. It's possible to think that Rouhani is conducting some similar steps. Of course, there is no consensus in Iran to promote that kind of policy. Rouhani should be very careful about the kind of policy he will implement as a kind of unilateral policy because he absolutely needs the support of the parliament and the supreme leader. So he can't take any unilateral decisions in order to gain more confidence in the negotiations.

On the other hand, he needs to prove his willingness to start a new era in the negotiations. So I think that Iran is prepared to chance some kind of policies or at least some kind of ambitions in the negotiations. But I don't think they will stop the whole nuclear process. It is something that is very important to all political elites. Maybe they will consider slowing down or reduce or to become more transparent on the whole process.

Let us now look at how an agreement in the future could look. How far is the West prepared to go to reach a long-awaited nuclear agreement with Iran?

I think the US is already prepared to discuss it, having in mind that they started this round of consultations. I think they are prepared to accept some degree of nuclear enrichment on the Iranian side. They need guarantees, of course, but I think there are other actors in the region that are not convinced at all, specifically Israel. I think that Europe was prepared even before to accept a nuclear Iran but, of course, they need safeguards that Iran's nuclear program won't be dangerous for Israel or for the neighbors and the region. I think that the West was prepared long time ago. It's not the equivalent thing about negotiations going on for the last eight to ten years.

We've mentioned Israel. What other countries might be rather outspoken when it comes to another agreement with Iran? Anybody in Europe?

Not especially. I don't know any country in Europe that would be against, I mean France, the UK and Germany have already been involved in the discussions with Iran in the previous period and they've never abandoned the discussions. So I don't think any of them will have a problem with accepting of Iran's nuclearization. Of course, they are interested in preventing any militarization of the program. This is the main problem. Iran has not been transparent enough to provide guarantees to Europe or to the UN, and because of that we are still discussing all of this. The Iranian parliament never approved the additional protocols that showed they were not 100% supportive of the agreement reached in 2003. But this is a different case.

Iran will resume negotiations in Geneva with six world powers, including the United States and Russia, on Thursday. The talks are aimed at ending a standoff over the country's nuclear program. Tehran has consistently denied it's weapons-related.


IAEA prepared to close Iran's "nuclear dossier"

Tehran, the International Atomic Energy Agency and the six international mediators are about to attain their objective and close Iran's "nuclear dossier". The decisive round of consultations involving IAEA inspectors is due in Tehran on November 11th, while the mediators (the five UN Security Council Permanent Members plus Germany) are scheduled to meet Tehran officials in Vienna on the 7th and 8th of this month to reach a new settlement agreement.

All of Iran's latest proposals to the IAEA are top secret. But it follows from statements by US and EU officials that the sluggish negotiating process has been clearly boosted. According to the US presidential press secretary, Jay Carney, Iran's latest proposal is by far more serious and richer in terms of content than any previous initiatives, while the EU Foreign Policy Coordinator, Catharine Ashton, described the Vienna-held round of talks with Iranian negotiators on October 30th and 31st as the most productive of all negotiations on Iran's nuclear problem.

According to diplomatic sources in Vienna, Iran and the IAEA will now consider Tehran's nuclear problem as technological, rather than military, to bring Iran-IAEA relations back to normal. The IAEA should from now on monitor Iran just as any other country, which actually amounts to closing Iran's "nuclear dossier".

Iran must have told the six mediators it's prepared to make really big concessions, or else the mediators wouldn't be brimming with optimism.

Meanwhile, Russian experts point out no progress would have been possible without Washington's change of heart. The US President Barack Obama badly needs breakthrough foreign policy initiatives in the wake of a spate of scandals around global surveillance. Closing Iran's "nuclear dossier" and normalizing relations with Tehran is exactly what both the Democrats and Republicans have urged the White House to do.

Iran's "nuclear dossier" may indeed be closed, which does not mean that Iran will shut down its nuclear programme, Professor of the Military University of the Russian Defence Ministry, Oleg Kulakov, told the Voice of Russia in an interview. The point is that the United States is radically changing its decades-old policy on Iran. This means the US will start changing relations with all regional nations, including Saudi Arabia and Israel, Oleg Kulakov says, and elaborates.

The ongoing changes in Iran's relations with the IAEA and the United States have been prompted by the realization of the fact that there is no point in studying Iran's nuclear programme under a microscope. Everyone is aware that Iran has already passed the point of no return, Tehran's nuclear programme has become irreversible, and it makes no sense to discuss it any longer.

Iran's "nuclear dossier" will obviously be closed. On the one hand, now that Iranians have elected the moderate reform-minded politician Hassan Rouhani as their President, Tehran is prepared to make concessions to the world community. On the other hand, even diehard conservatives in the United States have grown tired of the sluggish talks on Iran's nuclear problem, the head of the Centre for Oriental Studies of the Russian Diplomatic Academy, Andrei Volodin, told the Voice of Russia, and elaborated.

"The US has had no diplomatic relations with Iran since early 1980s, which has in no way benefited Washington politically. The US European allies are fed up with what bans have been imposed on selling arms to Iran. Saudi Arabia has actually lost control of the Middle East due to the recent Arab revolutions. So Riyadh will have to comply with what decisions the US will make."

When Iran began to develop its nuclear power engineering in the 1960s, it was aided by the US, Germany and France. When Ayatollah Khomeini came to power in 1979, he said nuclear programmes ran counter to Islamic standards and had them wrapped up. Tehran was largely prompted to resume its nuclear research by the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s.

Uranium should be enriched to 90%, to be used in a nuclear warhead. Iran said in April this year that it would not enrich uranium above 20%, the concentration required for scientific research. Israel insists that Iran can enrich its uranium to 90% in a matter of 90 days, and thus get a nuclear bomb. Russian experts claim, for their part, that it would take Iran 5 to 10 years to get the 90% concentration.

But then, Iran could follow in the footsteps of Japan. Tokyo has the full cycle of nuclear technology and is able to manufacture nuclear arms, but has thus far rejected the idea.

Andrey Fedyashin

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