‘Win-win’ Iran nuclear deal possible?

As the representatives of Islamic Republic of Iran and the “5 +1” nations renew their negotiations in Geneva this week, the question of whether or not a mutually-acceptable solution for the nuclear standoff can be found looms large.

In his interview with Le Monde, Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has stated that it is possible to reach a deal this week, depending on the serious and substantial effort of the other side, the US and its Western partners first and foremost. Gauging the intention of Western governments appears to be a main priority of the Iranian negotiation team, in light of the mixed signals from Washington since the conclusion of the previous round in mid-October, which was initially hailed by the White House officials as “serious and substantive.”

Unfortunately, during the past few weeks, we have witnessed a number of contradictory and even negative gestures by the US officials which have undermined the Iranian confidence in the ability and willingness of US government to move the pieces toward a reasonable and mutually-acceptable deal. As a result, some Iranian analysts have concluded that the US is only superficially committed to serious talks and too addicted to the language of coercive diplomacy to re-track itself toward a new, and necessary, paradigm based on international norms and respect for Iran’s legitimate nuclear rights.

As is well-known, a main bone of contention is the US’s refusal to recognize Iran’s right to possess a peaceful nuclear fuel cycle and, yet, this constitutes Iran’s “red line” which cannot be crosses. There is a suspicion in Iran that US’s intention is to dismantle Iran’s uranium enrichment program in stages, by pushing for an interim agreement that would put caps on Iran’s program, yet without addressing Iran’s request for an “end-game” negotiation. Clearly, this is not acceptable to Iran and any short-term agreement must be organically linked to a final agreement, otherwise it is bound to fail.

But, in case the world powers agree to Iran’s proposed timeline of one year to reach a comprehensive final agreement, then it is possible to pursue a structured negotiation whereby both sides take proactive initiatives in tandem that would reduce tensions, build confidence, and thus pave the way for the implementation of the proposed ‘road map’ for ending what Iran has rightly termed as an “unnecessary crisis.”

The reason the appellation “win-win” is appropriate is that all sides would benefit from the resolution of the nuclear standoff, which has resulted in sanctioning not only Iran but also the Western oil and trading companies interested in re-engaging with Iran. No one benefits from the talks’ collapse, which would likely lead to the escalation of the nuclear crisis to the detriment of regional stability and health of world economy.

A glimmer of hope, last week’s meeting of “technical experts” in Vienna as well as the Iran-IAEA meetings have been termed as “positive” and the head of the UN’s atomic agency is due in Tehran next week, hoping to finalize a new modality for cooperation, in light of Iran’s IAEA envoy’s statement that Iran has proposed a “new approach” for dealing with the agency. Clearly, the improvement of IAEA-Iran cooperation would have salutary effect on the on-going multilateral talks, in light of the UN sanctions resolutions on Iran which contain provisions regarding this cooperation.

One of Iran’s main concerns regarding a new modality for cooperation with the IAEA is that the agency’s access to Iran’s scientists may pose risks to those scientists, who are targeted for assassination by foreign powers. Thus, the IAEA must provide reliable assurance to Iran that the past pattern of leaking sensitive Iran information to other powers will not be repeated.

A point often missed by the Western pundits is that these resolutions implicitly dictate a “good-faith” negotiation by the world powers, which is sadly still lacking on the part of US and its Western partners, given their hard-line and dysfunctional opposition to a proportionate response to any Iranian concession, tantamount to a major obstacle to reaching a “win-win” agreement. Without doubt, this is partly due to the negative input of certain governments that are trying to sabotage the process by influencing the Western governments against any reasonable compromise with Iran.

Consequently, unless the US in particular shows real political will in insulating itself from such destructive influences that are in fact contrary to US’s national interests, it is doubtful that the hoped for “win-win” outcome can be achieved. A litmus test of US diplomacy, this month’s Geneva round can succeed or fail depending to some extent on Washington’s “will power” and willingness to move beyond tactical maneuvers and diplomatic gestures and display substantive seriousness with respect to Iran’s proposed road map.

As a result, in light of Iran’s pursuit of “constructive engagement” with the West, reflected in Iran’s pragmatic package of proposal mentioned above, if the talks fail the world community will undoubtedly blame the US and Israel, which has been investing heavily in the effort to block a nuclear deal. Unilateral Western sanctions would be even more difficult to enforce, given their obvious illegitimacy as instruments of coercion toward Iran, harboring intentions that have little or nothing to do with “counter-proliferation concerns,” and this would simply backfire on the sanctioning regimes themselves.

Therefore, the US and its Western partners logically speaking have a vested interest in preventing the collapse of these talks, and one certainly hopes that their negotiators will be moved by the compass of their national interests, instead of the impositions of other governments seeking to torpedo the realistic possibility for a timely breakthrough in the deadlocked negotiations. But, to reiterate, an important prerequisite for success is that the US and its allies give up on the notion that they can somehow extract maximum concessions from Iran by offering minimum or simply modest offers. Such an inflexible approach is simply an invitation to failed talks not a breakthrough.

This article was written by Kaveh L. Afrasiabi for the opinion page of the Press TV on November 7,2013. Kaveh L. Afrasiabi, PhD, is a political scientist residing in the US and the author of several books on Iran’s foreign and nuclear policies. 


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