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    Middle East
     Nov 20, '13

Negativity can't derail Geneva 3
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi

After a near deal that failed to materialize as a result of excess demands by France at the previous round in Geneva less than two weeks ago, this week's reunion of Iran and the world powers has a high probability of success, irrespective of the Israeli chorus of negativity.

Sealing the deal at the third round of talks, dubbed "Geneva 3", will not necessarily resolve the Iran nuclear standoff, given the overemphasis on "the first steps" of an "interim agreement". Nor is there any guarantee that this will have a longer life-time expectancy beyond the six months, deemed necessary to explore a more comprehensive "final deal". The history of Iran nuclear talks is full of inflated expectations, shallow and partial deals, and

unsustainable multilateral commitments to reach a compromise satisfactory to both sides.

Yet, somehow, due to a combination of fortuitous factors these talks are now progressed to the point of tipping over to the hitherto unknown territory of "win-win", a favorite jargon of Iran's foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, who on the eve of "Geneva 3" has released a video expressing hope for the diplomatic track. According to reliable sources in Iran, more than 90% of the issues have been hammered out and the remaining 10% is unlikely to prevent a deal come November 21.

Although the full details of the impending agreement remain confidential, the outlines of a "cap on enrichment for limited relief" are patently obvious, the difference between "Geneva 2" and "Geneva 3" being the crucial deal between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inked in Tehran last week, which has put to rest the French-led worries about the heavy water reactor in Arak, theoretically capable of producing plutonium. The latest IAEA report on Iran, citing "positive steps" by Iran, indicates that this reactor under construction is no where near going online any time soon, with major equipment yet to be installed.

According to Alaedin Boroujerdi, a powerful member of Iran's national security and foreign policy committee in the Parliament (Majlis), Iran has shown good faith and it is now the West's turn to prove its "intentions". There is no dearth of mutual suspicion in this "nuclear chess game" that is seemingly moving in the right direction after so many false starts. Reciprocity is the name of the game and the extraordinary thing about the present moment is actually the level of respect generated between Iranian and Western negotiators.

Henceforth, barring unforeseen last minute developments, we are almost certainly close to seeing a joint statement that is a rehashed version of the "initial" three-page agreement worked out between Iran and US on November 7, before the French managed to suspend it with untimely intrusions.

In a clue to a more cooperative French behavior, President Francois Hollande in his speech at the Israeli Knesset - in addition to raising the ire of his hawkish hosts by pushing for a joint Israeli-Palestinian capital in Jerusalem - hinted at his willingness to endorse a deal, by stating, "We have to do everything to solve the [Iran nuclear] crisis, first of all through diplomacy to reach an agreement and avoid sparking a fire," he said. "Iran must show measurable concessions."

Perhaps Hollande has realized that the train of diplomacy will leave France behind if Paris does not get its act together and speak the language of compromise and flexibility, irrespective of their catering to Israeli interests.

But, on the other hand, it can hardly be said that a deal that limits the scope of Iran's uranium enrichment program and subjects it greater transparency, thus making it incredibly difficult to divert to military objectives without being detected, is not in Israel's interests. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues his crusade against what he has labeled as the worst "deal of the century", but perhaps even he is beginning to see the merits of an agreement that does not dismantle the sanctions regime, only introducing minor cracks.

In fact, the news from the US that only a trickle of Iran's frozen assets will be released; ie US$6 to $7 billion maximum according to the US officials, has sparked a lively debate on Iran about the possibility of a "bad deal" that would relinquish Iran's "nuclear ace" that is the 20% enrichment without getting a reasonably proportionate return. The conservative daily Kayhan, for instance, has paired Zarif's statements next to US Secretary of State John Kerry's, which indicate an American determination to fold Iran's uranium enrichment program in carefully-calibrated phases.

Iran's insistence that its right to enrich uranium should be recognized is, in fact, a misplaced and misapplied position simply because there is no need for such a recognition in the first place and the consent or refusal of a few powers is immaterial to Iran's possession of its rights recognized by the very nature of articles of non-proliferation treaty. The inclusion of such a statement in any agreement is in reality a certificate of Iran's insecurity about its natural rights.

A number of Iran's analysts have expressed legitimate concerns about the "hidden motives" of the Western powers, aiming at Iran's "industrial scale enrichment capability" and trying to shrink it drastically through a "first step" agreement that carries the seeds of their final objective, considered a "red line" by Iran. [1]

What, then, is likely to happen in Geneva this week is a partial agreement that does not contain any explicit reference to Iran's right to enrich uranium, that one being delegated to the subsequent negotiations after the deal.

As to the Iranian worry about scant sanctions relief, Abbas Araghchi, Zarif's deputy at the talks, has told the Iranian media not to take Kerry's statements too seriously since they are "for domestic consumption". Incidentally, a new opinion poll by the ABC news indicates that the majority of Americans favor a reduction of the Iran sanctions.

Still, the solving of some problems is bound to introduce new problems. On the Iranian side, the challenge is to make sure that the "first steps" are telescoped to the "final steps" that guarantee Iran's nuclear rights instead of undermining those rights and, on the opposite side, there is a real concern that any small breakthrough may act as a "dam breaker" by triggering a tidal wave of anti-sanctions momentum. Keeping complete control over the process may prove difficult for the parties involved, as there are multiple side-effects well beyond the narrow nuclear issue.

On the positive side, a deal in Geneva next couple of days can be an effective catalyst for a broader push for peace in the Middle East, by paving the road to Iran's inclusion in the other "Geneva process" involving Syria. A giant sigh of relief for an entire region in flames, a nuclear deal has the potential to create a brand new momentum for regional peace, assuming that the Israelis and Saudis will feel up to the task of giving peace a chance, especially in Syria.

On the negative side, fear of an Iran-US detente coming at their expense, may propel Iran's traditional adversaries in the region to play even greater mischief in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and elsewhere in order to prevent Iran's rising power. In other words, the moment of peace in Geneva can yield contradictory results in the Middle East theater of conflict and only time will tell which side will have the upper hands.

What is rather certain now is that a nuclear deal will inevitably break significant ice between Tehran and Washington and raise the prospects of rapprochement by a few significant notches.

1. For more on the complexity of computing Iran's "win" see here.

Kaveh L Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New Directions in Iran's Foreign Policy (Westview Press) . For further biographical details, click here. Afrasiabi is author of Iran's Nuclear Program: Debating Facts Versus Fiction (2007), Reading In Iran Foreign Policy After September 11 (BookSurge Publishing , October 23, 2008) and Looking for Rights at Harvard. His latest book is UN Management Reform: Selected Articles and Interviews on United Nations (CreateSpace, 2011).

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