COMMENT Iran pushes nuclear ball into Western laps
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi
At the conclusion of intense two-day negotiation in Geneva, Iran and the "5 +1" powers (the UN Security Council's Permanent Five plus Germany), issued a joint statement that described the talks as positive and substantive and announced follow-up talks that would be preceded by the meeting of experts from both sides.
Thanks to Iran's initiative of a new package of proposals, which was praised by the European Union's foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton as uniquely detailed and comprehensive, the latest round of nuclear negotiations successfully moved the process forward and triggered high hope that the long-standing stalemate may be on the verge of getting resolved.
The Iranian package, dubbed by the media as "Zarif's package," named after Iran's skillful Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, has not been disclosed publicly, but based on reports from
Geneva it has offered a phased approach focusing on an "end-game" whereby conciliatory steps by Iran, such as the adoption of intrusive Additional Protocol of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), would go hand-in-hand with the reciprocal lifting of unilateral and multilateral sanctions on Iran as well as the explicit recognition of Iran's nuclear rights; above all, the right to a peaceful nuclear fuel cycle.
While important details of the Geneva talks are yet to be publicly revealed, there is no denying that compared to the previous rounds - in Almaty, Moscow, Baghdad, Istanbul, and previous three rounds in Geneva - this round broke some significant ice and showcased a new level of Iranian commitment to untie the blind knot of nuclear standoff, which has resulted in unjust sanctions on Iran.
As a result, the ball of diplomacy is squarely in the laps of world powers, particularly the US, which has taken the lead in imposing a series of unilateral sanctions on Iran. The US government must now reciprocate Iran's conciliatory and serious initiatives by offering to remove the sanctions in a timely manner, irrespective of the opposition by certain hawkish US lawmakers, in light of a recent bipartisan letter to President Obama signed by 10 US senators, who advise the White House against any removal of sanctions as long as Iran has not stopped uranium enrichment on its soil.
In turn, given the scope of anti-Iran hostility in the United States Congress, which has inserted itself in the US's Iran policy for sometime, the fate of a future deal may hinge on the White House's ability to deliver sanctions relief to Iran without facing backlashes in Congress. Given the present state of inter-party US factionalism, vividly demonstrated over the US government shutdown, that is a formidable challenge for the Obama administration.
Inalienable nuclear rights
This aside, as Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister, has rightly pointed out, there is still a bumpy road ahead and serious difficulties before a final deal can be reach still remain; one being the hitherto absence of an official Western acknowledgement of Iran's legal right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. Iran's deputy foreign minister, Seyed Abbas Araghchi, has reiterated Iran's "red line" with respect to the Non-Proliferation Treaty right to enrich uranium, and it is therefore up to US and its Western allies to either finally come to term with Iran's irreversible technological advance and respect Iran's "inalienable nuclear rights," or to persist in their coercive efforts to somehow reverse the process and succeed in dismantling Iran's centrifuges.
At the moment, the US policy is mired in an unhealthy ambiguity, which is detrimental to making solid progress in the on-going nuclear talks If Washington refuses to take the necessary step of formally and explicitly recognizing Iran's nuclear rights, then it will only isolate itself in the international community and its sanctions' legitimacy will suffer further. On the other hand, if US leaders reach a consensus on the need to end the "unnecessary crisis" and adopt a "new attitude" based on respect for Iran's rights under international law, then not only the nuclear crisis will begin to disappear, this will also have salutary effects on the frozen US-Iran relations.
Hopefully, the US will in the near future opt for a rational and prudent approach, whereby the removal of Iran sanctions would be seriously entertained, instead of resorting to tactical maneuvers intended at extracting serious nuclear concessions from Iran in exchange for minor concessions. In other words, the requirement for reciprocity to Iran's good-will initiative is still missing, yet is necessary within the next few weeks if the follow-up meeting in November is to have any chance of causing a concrete breakthrough.
For now, however, the significant change in the negotiation landscape, affecting atmospherics first and foremost, is a welcome development that can well be the harbinger of better things to come, in light of Zarif's proposed timeline for ending the standoff within a year.
For sure, Iran has now proved that it is serious and has stepped forward by addressing the elements of a deal, and it is up to the other side to prove the validity of their claim to "constructive engagement" by reciprocating Iran's moves. After all, matching words with action is a two-way process and the Western powers should seize on the golden opportunity to reset their relations with Iran by matching Iran's latest offer honestly and prudently, instead of the familiar pattern of (rather hypocritically) placing maximalist demands and offering minimalist concessions, or simply focusing on "intermediary confidence-building" at the expense of a final agreement. Unless there is a clean break from this unhealthy and counter-productive approach, the present opportunity will be lost again, and the current optimism will be replaced with a new wind of pessimism.
The next few weeks will tell if Western powers have matured to the point of disconnecting themselves from the addiction of coercive diplomacy and are really ready to adopt a new approach within the framework of international law and rules of mutual respect and reciprocity. Only then can we expect an end to the present "crisis of choice" over Iran's peaceful nuclear program.
The tangible progress in Geneva will prove a milestone only if there is consistent follow-up reflecting a serious commitment by the Western governments to build on present progress; otherwise the new confidence will prove a chimera, evaporated by the ramifications of inconsistent and incoherent policies that will simply recycle the nuclear crisis instead of ending it.
Kaveh L Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of After Khomeini: New Directions in Iran's Foreign Policy (Westview Press) . For further biographical details, clickhere. 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, November 12, 2011).
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