THE LEVANT – By Hassan Beheshtipour – The general atmosphere governing Iran’s nuclear talks with the P5+1 group of countries is imbued with hopes and apprehensions. After the lapse of about a year from the conclusion of an interim agreement between the two sides in the Swiss city of Geneva last November, they have progressed a lot. In doing so, they have shed more light on many differences, have pinpointed what steps should be taken to resolve those differences, and 95 percent of the solutions they have found has been effective. On the other hand, although only five percent of the problems still remain unsolved, this five percent is so important that can overshadow the entire course of the agreements. Of course, the two sides have gone a long way with regard to the nuclear issue, but the remaining points of difference are by no means insignificant. Now that a new round of nuclear talks is taking place in the Austrian capital city of Vienna, due attention to the following points may be helpful:
- The talks between Iran and the United States are not a political “duel” and using this term is miles away from the reality on the ground. The underway talks are not just between Iran and the United States, but are taking place between Iran and the whole P5+1 group of countries. This time, Catherine Ashton will not take part as the European Union’s High Representative Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, but will represent all five countries in talks with Iran. The presence of the US Secretary of State John Kerry, however, has raised doubts that the next round of talks may actually turn into a political duel because the most important problems that Iran currently faces are with the United States. The United States, on the other hand, has been the most influential member of the P5+1 group, which has affected the entire course of the negotiations since it first took part in them in 2008. Of course, most of the impact that the United States has had on the negotiations has been negative and Washington has only served to create obstacles on the way of a final agreement. Iran, however, has not changed its main approach to negotiations during a full year that has passed since the election of its new president, Hassan Rouhani. The country has even given its negotiating team the go-ahead to engage in direct talks with the United States in order to find speedy solutions for the problems embedded in the nuclear case.
In reality, European countries are the main beneficiaries to possible removal of sanctions against Iran. Economic relations that many of the European countries had with Iran in the past constitute a good guide to determine possible benefits that those countries will reap through resolution of their problems with Iran. Therefore, one may claim that these European countries have no major problem for returning to the Iranian market. From this viewpoint, one may also express hope that the foreign ministers of Germany, France and the UK would put more pressure on the United States to accept two issues. The first issue is the unilateral abrogation of sanctions against Iran and removing anti-Iran bans in the short period of time that Iran expects from them. The second issue is about the number of active centrifuges in Iran. They may be also able to get the United States to give the green light to the plan, which is known as the incremental plan, according to which as Iran’s need to enriched uranium increases, so does the number of centrifuges that the country needs for this purpose. On the basis of these expectations, the European countries should shift from their current passive position to a more active one and help to take the negotiations with Iran to a final and conclusive outcome. One of the ways to do this is to appear more active in negotiations and offer various plans to reach a final result while doing their best to encourage the United States to be more resilient in this regard.
The ball is now in the United States’ court. Iran has been as resilient as possible throughout the nuclear talks. The country has undergone strict supervision, controls and limitations during the past nine month, which have been confirmed by four reports that Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Yukiya Amano has released in this period. Now, it is the United States’ turn to show a higher degree of resilience and do not allow the negotiations to hit a deadlock. To bring the United States to this point, we need some help. Unlike the French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who not only withheld its help to this process, but also tried to totally block it, other foreign ministers of the EU member states should make efforts to make the United States more resilient. Although some analysts believe that when it comes to Iran’s nuclear issue, Americans have appeared more resilient than the member states of the EU.
Negotiations should not be undertaken for the sake of negotiations, but they should be carried out in order to reach a result. Further extension of the negotiations in line with the interim Geneva agreement would not be in Iran’s favor. Although the Western party is in good conditions to extend talks, Iran will practically come under heightened pressure through extension of negotiations. If pressures are to be tolerated, then why restrictions should be accepted at the same time? Therefore, unlimited extension of negotiations is not a good option. Iran should, thus, set a clear limit for the extension of negotiations. So far, the approach taken by the Iranian nuclear negotiating team has been to take all the steps that the Western sides had asked Iran to take in order to build confidence with its negotiating partners and assure them that it has no plan to build nuclear bomb. Iran has practically brought 20-percent uranium enrichment to total standstill. The country has also taken steps to reduce enrichment level of half of its 20-percent enriched uranium down to 5 percent. At the same time, the other half has been oxidized. Oxidation does not mean the elimination of enriched uranium, but is a step through which enriched uranium is being prepared to be used as fuel at the Tehran Research Reactor. There has been also no more progress in the operations of Arak heavy water reactor while Fordow and Natanz nuclear facilities continue their operations using 5-percent uranium as feed. Iran has accepted all kinds of oversight mechanisms and inspections of its nuclear facilities have been carried out regularly and even more frequent than the past. Of course, it is true that the Western side has abided by its obligations. However, when it comes to the issue of uranium enrichment in Iran, the time has come for Western countries to accept for good and all that Iran should be able to maintain its nuclear know-how for uranium enrichment at industrial level. If this issue is accepted, other problems would be amenable to a final solution.
If negotiations are not extended and the two sides go back to where they were in late November 2013, Iran will still continue with negotiations. This is true because there is basically no other solution to the Islamic Republic’s nuclear issue save for negotiations. However, when some analysts say that negotiations should not be further extended, it means that agreements reached last November should not be followed any more, but it does not mean that negotiations should be discontinued. On the contrary, negotiations should go on until a final solution is found. Even those parties that are apparently opposed to the continuation of negotiations have not been able to offer any alternative option which would be beneficial to the Iranian nation. Therefore, we must do our best to reach a final result and that result cannot be achieved through any way other than negotiations. Now that, unlike past years, Iran is using a language that is understood within framework of international law, we can be hopeful that if negotiations continue, they are sure to reach a result. However, it should be noted that opposition to further extension of the interim Geneva agreement does not mean that negotiations should stop as well.