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February 25, 2014
The P5+1 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) and Iran came together again last week to resume their negotiations over Tehran’s nuclear program. Bolstered by the interim agreement, which has been in effect for a couple of months now, the diplomats from the P5+1 and Iran hope to come to a final agreement that could, in theory, resolve the question of the Iranian nuclear program. However, all parties involved have been keen on lowering expectations on the possibility of coming to a satisfactory agreement. Few regional commentators hold out hope they will be proven wrong.
In a possible sign of a thaw between Iran and the West, Asharq Alawsat’s Mina Al-Oraibi reports that “the Iranian consulate in London reopened its doors after more than two years of sustained diplomatic tensions between Britain and the Islamic Republic....The reopening marks the end of the ‘protecting power’ arrangement that saw Sweden working on Britain’s behalf in Iraq, and Oman working on Iran’s behalf in the UK....As for whether the UK intends to press ahead with more diplomatic openness with Tehran, including reopening the British embassy in Tehran, the British Foreign Office said: ‘We have not taken any decision on reopening the British Embassy in Tehran. This will depend on the progress we made in our step-by-step approach.’”
But success in the talks will depend on more than just gestures like reopening the doors of a consulate. In fact, as Yedioth Ahronoth’s Ron Ben-Yishai points out, most of the difficult issues remain unresolved: “What does success depend on? Given this state of affairs, it's hard to predict what will happen at the end of the process. The success or failure of the negotiations depend on many variables....[The sanctions] have a direct impact on the Iranian economy.... The results of the battle inside Iran between the camp opposing openness towards the West and the camp supporting Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammed Zarif.... The determination of the world powers (primarily the U.S. and Europe) in their demands of the Iranians, including meticulous inspection and verification, and their ability to stop the sanctions from falling apart.... Coordinated Israeli-Saudi pressure on the U.S. and France…. Planning and demonstrating a reliable military option by Israel and the U.S.”
Despite the difficulties ahead, writes Trita Parsi in an op-ed for Al Jazeera, there is plenty of room of compromise and cooperation: “The stars could not be better aligned for a U.S.-Iran breakthrough. Regional developments — from the instability following the Arab spring to the civil war in Syria — have significantly increased the cost of continued conflict, as has the escalation of the nuclear issue with steadily growing Iranian capabilities and ever tightening economic sanctions. Domestically, developments are also favourable for a deal. Iran's hardliners and proponents of a narrative of resistance have been put on the defensive by Hassan Rouhani's election victory in June 2013. And Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has thus far firmly backed Rouhani's negotiation strategy.”
Part of this realignment seems to have affected some Israeli politicians and commentators as well. Smarting from the blowback over the failed attempt to tighten the sanctions regime, Yedioth Ahronoth’s Efraim Halevy proposes a less confrontational way to deal with Iran’s nuclear program: “Now, it seems that Israel has realized that its tactics to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon failed to achieve their goal. The Iranians took good advantage of this on a PR level, and were blessed with achievements in Washington. Most of their accomplishments were not inevitable — many of them were the result of an own goal by Israel....The experience of the past few months has shown that the louder the Israeli cries of despair, the harder the defeat....The more wisely we choose our battles, the more we invest in serious and sensible diplomatic action, the better the chances that we'll win the war. And that's the most important thing.”
The Iranian regime, meanwhile, is not leaving anything to chance, trying to build momentum toward repealing the sanctions regime, while shoring up domestic support for possible painful concessions. For example, despite working hard to lift the economic burden caused by the sanctions, the Daily Star (Lebanon) reported that Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei “ordered the government to create an ‘economy of resistance’ to counter sanctions imposed over Tehran's nuclear program. In comments posted on his website leader.ir on Wednesday, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called Western sanctions ‘a full-fledged economic war’ and said Iran is determined to force the West to retreat. The program requires the government to diversify Iran's exports, reduce dependence on sales of raw materials and promote knowledge-based high-tech industries.”
Various news agencies have also reported widely statements made by “a prominent hard-line cleric in Iran [who] warned on Friday against the country resuming ties with the United States, and said any attempt to do so would prove futile. ‘Some people have created an underground network for establishing relations with the America,’ Ayatollah Ahmad Janati told crowds at Friday prayers in Tehran, in comments broadcast by state media. ‘Our people are anti-American — you should be anti-American as well. Why did you go a different way from the people?’ Janati asked, addressing those alleged to be behind the move.”
Moreover, Iranian government officials have made it clear that Iran has no intention of giving up their right to enrichment. In a recent report on the ongoing negotiations, the main Iranian daily Tehran Times cites “Deputy Foreign Minister for Legal and International Affairs Abbas Araqchi [who] said on Sunday that uranium enrichment will be included in the final nuclear deal between Iran and the six major powers (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany, known as the 5+1 group)....He said that U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman also emphasized that the final deal will include Iran’s right to uranium enrichment. Uranium enrichment and its scope will be agreed on the final deal, Araqchi explained.”
Majid Rafizadeh, president of the International American Council, in an op-ed for Al Arabiya, suggests that it is highly unlikely the Iranian regime could ever give up what it sees as an insurance policy for the sustainability of the regime: “The final phase of nuclear talks will be nuanced, complex, and likely lengthy. It will only leave the West with the option to extend the interim deal, if a final deal is not reached. However, when it comes to a political, economic and military cost-benefit analysis, it appears that the priority for the Islamic Republic is to have powerful nuclear deterrence. This could not only ensure the survival of the current political establishment, but can also significantly change the power relations in the region in favor of the Islamic Republic.”
But there is reason to believe that the Iranians have an interest in a negotiated outcome that would put an end to the sanctions, which, according to Sammy Almashat and Maziar Shirazi, are causing havoc with Iran’s healthcare system: “The suffering of the Iranian people, far from being a point of concern, has been upheld by Senators John McCain and Chuck Schumer as evidence of the sanctions' success in ‘bringing Iran to the negotiating table’....In the coming months, the Obama administration and European authorities must be held accountable for implementing their promise to ease trade in humanitarian items, especially by U.S. media that has thus far rendered the Iranian people all but invisible in its reporting on the sanctions. However, absent a rollback of the sanctions' most draconian provisions, promises of humanitarian relief within a policy of collective punishment designed solely to cripple their nation's economy are, for average Iranians, empty and self-serving gestures.”
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