From West’s tactical solution to Iran’s strategic perspective in Almaty 2

an and the P5+1 group of world powers end the first round of comprehensive talks in the Kazakh city of Almaty on April 5, 2013.

While Almaty 2 negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 group of world powers ended without reaching a conclusive result, most experts, even the Western ones, still insist that the negotiations have not been a failure. At the same time, both Iran’s chief negotiator, Saeed Jalili, and his counterpart in the P5+1, Catherine Ashton, have admitted that there are still wide gaps between the two sides and – as put by Ashton – the two sides are “far apart on the substance” of the negotiations. However, both parties have emphasized that the date and venue for the next round of talks will be soon determined in a phone call and the two sides’ teams will sit at the negotiating table once again. However, nobody knows when that phone call is going to be made. In the meantime, just a few hours after the Almaty 2 talks reached their end, some Western countries were talking about imposition of new sanctions against Iran and a number of Iranian Majlis deputies, on the other hand, proposed that Iran should quit the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). So, how the two-day talks in the Kazakh city of Almaty should be viewed and assessed? What follows is an interview with Mohammad Farhad Koleini, a senior expert on international issues, to discuss further about this matter.

Q: It seems that Iran’s viewpoint on the outcome of Almaty 2 talks is poles apart from the assessment of the Western side. What is your opinion about the outcome of the negotiations and whose assessment is closer to reality?

A: First of all, it should be noted that during Almaty 1 negotiations, both sides did their best to somehow bolster their approaches in order to pave the way for the achievement of a common understanding through Almaty 1 negotiations. This was so serious that some analysts described Almaty 1 talks as a turning point in the process of Iran’s negotiations with the P5+1. However, what actually happened in Almaty 2 was that the Western negotiators entered negotiations without any new ideas. This was somehow odd because the two sides were supposed to go through a common course and had agreed on this during expert-level talks in the Turkish city of Istanbul. Therefore, both sides were naturally expected to act on the basis of a common approach and understanding. Even Iran offered proposals for a second time in order to facilitate future talks within a clear framework and balance all the involved elements because it was Tehran’s goal to do anything to prop up the course of the negotiations. However, what is evident right now is that the West does not show real enthusiasm about strategic negotiations and is bent on going on with tactical talks.

On the other hand, positions taken by Russia, China, and to some extent by the United States, on how the interactions with Iran should continue, have been somehow different from certain European countries. This means that there are different viewpoints among the member states of the P5+1 on the outcome and the continuation of Almaty 2 negotiations and this point has been clearly reflected in their statements. Of course, some countries have exercised more prudence and have not issued a final statement yet and Ms. Ashton is quite aware of this difference. This is why the European countries have announced after the termination of Almaty 2 talks that they should consult with their respective capitals.

Therefore, in an overall assessment of the negotiations, one may say that the two sides have noticed that the new round of talks in Kazakhstan was characterized by a number of new features. First of all, they have entered into more details with regard to bargaining on the elements which can create a balance in the negotiations. Secondly, both parties have come to accept that they should take advantage of new elements to build confidence within the circle of either side’s proposals, not outside it. That is, it is not appropriate for the West to pursue the imposition of intense sanctions against Iran, on the one hand, while, on the other hand, expect Iran to be resilient and build confidence outside the framework of the negotiations. This trend indicates that they are actually trying to assess the outcome of the negotiations before they are actually over. This system of negotiations has been followed by them in the past and the results are quite clear. Therefore, if they want to pursue negotiations along the line of the same approach, they would naturally fail to achieve a desirable result. Now, both sides are in conditions to take small steps and, as put by Chinese officials, both sides should, at least, agree on the need to “avoid confrontation.” I think, in view of the official statements which have been issued by both sides, they are now in the time-out for a short period of time. Therefore, one should wait and see whether a new round of talks will be resumed rapidly following consultations, or will be postponed until new sanctions are first imposed on Iran and then the request for negotiations is offered to Tehran.

Apart from assessing the negotiations within the simple framework of Iran nuclear issue, another important point here is the effort made by some of the member states of the P5+1 to take a radical positions on Iran’s nuclear issue. This means that the West’s reckonings on the negotiations are such that they can at least guess some of the outcomes of those talks beforehand. It is, however, very remarkable that they are still taking positions which are aimed to keep the negotiations in a state of stalemate. This issue shows that some countries are trying to take different advantage of the negotiations outside of the negotiation room. Perhaps, they aim to continue to condition the public opinion in Iran with regard to the nuclear negotiations in order to influence the process of the forthcoming presidential election in the Islamic Republic.

Q: Iran and the P5+1 have so far finished 10 rounds of negotiations none of which has led to a conclusive agreement. Don’t you think that prolongation of the negotiations will have negative consequences for Iran?

A: Negotiations like nuclear talks or other forms of negotiations which are of strategic importance, for example those which pertain to strategic weapons or nuclear issues, are not of the nature of rapidly producing firm results. For instance, negotiations between Japan and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) over Japan’s nuclear program, or negotiations between the IAEA and South Africa took many years. Therefore, the issue of nuclear negotiations and, in general, all strategic issues is different from bilateral or even multilateral geopolitical negotiations. Naturally, the nature of such negotiations calls for more serious and more painstaking discussions. Therefore, nobody can expect a speedy result from strategic negotiations. Of course, some tactical issues emerge now and then which are naturally effective on the course of the negotiations. For example, every party may try to take concessions from the other party throughout the negotiations or they may try to corner each other in view of the general atmosphere of the negotiations, exigencies of time, and other conditions. When it comes to Iran’s nuclear issue, many international experts believe that this issue cannot be resolved in the absence of an overarching understanding of the level of geopolitical balance in the region. Naturally, some analysts maintain that as long as the situation in Syria has not been resolved, negotiations over Iran’s nuclear issue will not reach a conclusive result as well. Other experts still believe that as long as the presidential election has not been held in Tehran and there is high possibility that some policies or the members of the nuclear negotiating team may change, there would be no likelihood for an agreement to be reached between Iran and the P5+1. Therefore, the Iranian side has constantly emphasized that the West should not be carried away by erroneous calculations. Although this recommendation has been repeated time and time again, it is by no means a simple expression and is not meant by Iran for propaganda purposes. On the contrary, it is an accurate tactical reminder which is aimed to tell the Western countries that their analysis of conditions in Iran should not lead to misunderstanding of those conditions and finally make the West take wrong steps in the negotiations.

Q: Following the end of Almaty 2 negotiations, some deputies of the Iranian parliament started talking about quitting the NPT by Iran mentioning it as the next step that the Islamic Republic should take. To what extent do you think this option is feasible and what would be its consequences?

A: The issue of quitting the NPT is just the personal view of some Majlis deputies. Iran is currently taking part in the negotiations on the basis of the NPT’s principles and it was on the basis of the same principles that the new round of negotiations was undertaken. Therefore, Iran will continue to remain a member to the NPT. This will also continue until the negotiations reach a desirable and logical result which would be acceptable to both sides. However, if the West’s policies continue in such a way that they keep escalating sanctions against Tehran and follow a policy of sanctions and pressures, it would in fact damage the credibility of recognized international treaties.

Q: What is the viewpoint of Europeans regarding the outcome of the negotiations?

A: As for the positions taken by the European countries, it should be noted that the Islamic Republic of Iran has been always aware of the value and importance of interactions with Europe and has been always careful about having a common ground with the European countries. In this regard, the role played by the European countries has been different from Iran and there have been more grounds among Iran and Germany and France because they have behaved differently from other European states. Therefore, it seems that cooperation modalities which can exist between Iran and the European countries regardless of the situation of Iran’s nuclear case, should be revived. Europe should understand that any crisis will come to an end someday and there is an endpoint for any contention. The important point is for all the involved parties to be able to get past the crisis and continue their cooperation.

Iran is valuable to Europe, not simply because of its role in the Middle East, but also as a source of strategic support for Europe. The two sides can especially engage in valuable cooperation in energy sector and even on fighting terrorism and drug trafficking. From this angle, it seems that the importance that Iran attaches to cooperation with Europe has strategic meaning. However, it is Europe which should make a serious decision in this regard. During these negotiations, we saw for the first time that the representative of France asked for a bilateral meeting with the Iranian side. Of course, such common understanding has regularly existed between Iran and Germany despite friendly criticisms from both sides. From this viewpoint, it seems that the British government should also pay attention to new conditions and mend its way toward Iran. Just in the same way that the Iranian side said, the existing void in Iran’s relations with Britain should be filled as soon as possible.

Q: Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, has said during the past few days that Israel will not leave its fate to other countries, even to very close friends. Also, Israel’s minister of strategic and intelligence affairs [Yuval Steinitz] has asked the P5+1 to set a deadline for Iran. What impact such positions can have on the continuation of negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 group?

A: The issue of posing creditable military threat to Iran has been always part of the theories worked out by the enemies of Iran. As for the new war cries from the Israeli regime, it should be noted that Israelis themselves are quite aware of the ineffectiveness and incredibility of these cries. They clearly know that if, under present conditions, they assess the situation according to the existing strategic balance in the region, it would be evident that Iran has remarkable capabilities and power to answer any possible wrong action which Israel may take.

Following its failure to convince the world to set a red line for Iran’s nuclear energy program, Israel has now changed colors and has replaced the policy of pushing for the red lines with another policy of giving ultimatum to Iran and it is doing all these in order to prove its effectiveness in the region. However, Israel is actually doing its utmost to get its voice heard across the region by repeating its hostile positions on Iran. Sometimes a cry in the dark is not the sign of bravery, but a result of extreme fear.

By US Close Up


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