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    Middle East
     May 23, 2008
Iran's surprise package tests waters
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi

The White House has been quick to dismiss it, and certain European diplomats have criticized it for "sidestepping" the nuclear issue, yet a close scrutiny of Iran's "Proposed Package for Constructive Negotiations" reveals a new Iranian sentiment in favor of compromise and flexibility on the country's nuclear activities.

This document, which has been submitted to the United Nations as well as the governments of the "Iran Six" group (ie, the UN Security Council's five permanent members - the United States, France, Russia, China and Britain, plus Germany), has been

 

proposed as a "basis for comprehensive and thorough negotiations with the said countries", to paraphrase Iran's ambassador to the UN, Mohammad Khazaee. It expresses Iran's readiness to "start serious and targeted negotiations to produce a tangible result. The negotiations can be evaluated after a specific period of time [a maximum of six months] to decide about its continuation".

This may well mean that Iran is open to the idea of a temporary suspension of uranium-enrichment activities for the duration of negotiations, as reportedly called for by the Iran Six nations in their new "incentive package" to Iran, due to be delivered shortly by a delegation led by the European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana.

Since any such compromise on Iran's part may be negatively interpreted in the region and beyond as a sign of Iran's weakness, it must be linked to certain value-adding, prestige-enhancing results for Iran's foreign policy, otherwise it will be a hard sell at home. As a regional power that is concerned about the prospects of a regional nuclear arms race, Iran can definitely take some of the steam from the engine of proliferation in Persian Gulf and beyond by striking a deal that brings greater stability to the region and, simultaneously, compensates for its nuclear compromise by increasing its regional clout through the arch of "collective cooperation", to cite Iran's package.

The package calls for a "new and more advanced plan for interaction" and an "agreement on collective commitments to cooperate" on various economic, political, regional, international, nuclear and "energy security" issues. It also calls for concrete steps to "bolster the stability and the advancement of democracy in the region".

Coinciding with a new political agreement in fractious Lebanon, supported by Iran, which was also instrumental in bringing the recent hostilities in Baghdad and Basra to a close, Iran's expressed interest to play a big role in regional stability merits attention. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has called for a respectable place for Iran at the negotiation table on Middle East peace talks, and this is in sync with the package's reference to the need for "cooperation to assist the Palestinian people to find a comprehensive plan".

Fighting "common security threats" forms another agenda of Iran's package, identifying the threats of terrorism, drugs, illegal immigration and organized crime. Embedded here is the idea of "collective security" that Iran has pitched at its Persian Gulf neighbors for some time, as well as sufficient fuel to back Lavrov's suggestion that the "sextet must give Iran clear security guarantees".

Although Iran is in favor of this, Tehran's rulers insist that linking it with the peaceful nuclear program is problematic since it "securitizes" the peaceful nature of that program. Rather, they like to see the security guarantee without any strings attached, simply as a reflection of the law-abiding behavior of world powers.

That aside, fighting "poverty in less developed countries and to reduce the divide between social classes" is also mentioned as a top priority, thus re-emphasizing Iran's non-aligned identity vis-a-vis the North-South issues (as well US unipolarism). The package mentions the need to reduce "the impact of sharp price fluctuations" and according to Iran's ambassador to Japan, Seyed Abbas Araghchi (See interview with Araghchi, How Tehran wants to fix the world) , this means Iran's awareness of the need to address food security issues.

Prior to its release to the outside world, President Mahmud Ahmadinejad stated, "Iran will put forward new proposals to solve its dispute with the West over its nuclear program." This brings us to a consideration of the section on the nuclear issue.

Citing Iran's membership in the non-proliferation regime and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the package states that "Iran is ready in a comprehensive manner to consider" seven areas of cooperation. First, "obtaining a further assurance about the non-diversion of nuclear activities of all countries," which reminds one of Iran-European Union-3 (Germany, France and Britain) agreement of October 2004 that called for "objective guarantees" by Iran in exchange for "firm commitment" by the European powers with respect to their pledges of nuclear and technological support for Iran. Some analysts have rightly interpreted this as Iran's veiled declaration of readiness to re-adopt the IAEA's intrusive Additional Protocol.

The second item mentioned in the nuclear section is "establishing enrichment and nuclear fuel production consortiums in different parts of the world - including Iran". This proposal, first stated by Ahmadinejad in his speech before the UN General Assembly in September 2006, has recently received a major boost as a result of concrete Iran-Russia talks. What is more, this shows that Iran may also be warming to the idea of an international consortium on Iran' s soil that would be kept in "black box" with respect to the sensitive technology. (See The Gordian Knot of nuclear crisis Asia Times Online, April 22, 2006.)

The other items of the Iranian package deal with the issue of access to peaceful nuclear technology, improved supervision by the IAEA, joint collaboration on nuclear safety, the need to "encourage other states to control export of nuclear material," and disarmament. Concerning the latter, there may grounds for a quid pro quo here, whereby the nuclear-have states of the Iran Six group would pledge to work harder to make meaningful gains on the disarmament front in exchange for Iran's willingness to comply with their nuclear demands from Iran.

That is highly unlikely, however, and the best that Iran can possibly hope for are some public statements by the world leaders on the hitherto unfulfilled disarmament objectives. Nonetheless, even the appearance of giving importance to Iran's proposal on this matter plays a role with respect to the Iranian nuclear crisis.

In conclusion, in the play of "diplomatic packages" between Iran and the Iran Six nations, it is fairly obvious that Iran, by making its own initiative, has not entirely ceded the territory to the other side and, rather, has engaged in a spirited initiative that, logically speaking, should encourage those who seek a peaceful resolution of their perceived "Iran nuclear crisis".

In light of the recent Israeli reports that US President George W Bush is seeking a military confrontation with Iran before he leaves office, this is a top priority for the world community that cannot possibly be put to the backburner.

Kaveh L Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New Directions in Iran's Foreign Policy (Westview Press) and co-author of "Negotiating Iran's Nuclear Populism", Brown Journal of World Affairs, Volume XII, Issue 2, Summer 2005, with Mustafa Kibaroglu. He also wrote "Keeping Iran's nuclear potential latent", Harvard International Review, and is author of Iran's Nuclear Program: Debating Facts Versus Fiction.

(Copyright 2008 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)


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