Europe Willing to Reduce Anti-Iran Sanctions

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Interview with Mohammad Farhad Koleini
Former Iranian Ambassador to Armenia & Expert on Strategic Issues

The current trend in Iran’s nuclear dossier and the latest negotiations between Ali Baqeri and Helga Schmid, the deputies of Iran’s and the P5+1 group’s chief negotiators, clearly proves that Iran and the West are seriously discussing their differences at the negotiating table. The West has launched its worst ever war of nerves against Iran by notching up sanctions against the Islamic Republic. At the same time, Russia has been challenging the West both in Iran’s nuclear case and in the Syrian crisis. Moscow has been actually vetoing the West’s anti-Syrian resolutions at the United Nations Security Council one after the other. Tehran Emrouz Persian daily has, therefore, conducted the following interview with Mohammad Farhad Koleini, a senior expert on strategic issue, about Iran’s nuclear issue and role of Russia in Iran’ nuclear dossier as well as the ongoing crisis in Syria. He believes that Russia has taken an intelligent approach to make the most of the prolongation of Iran’s nuclear case. What follows is the text of the interview.

Q: Following the end of expert-level negotiations between Iran and member states of the P5+1 group – including the US, the UK, France, Germany, Russia, and China – there has been a media lull on the results of the meeting on both sides. Why the results have not been reflected in the mass media? Being aware of what happened in the recent Istanbul meeting between the two sides’ experts, Catherine Ashton (the P5+1’s chief nuclear negotiator) has announced that new talks will be held between Iran and the P5+1. Does this mean that experts have exchanged concessions?

A: Baqeri’s stance following the recent meeting with Schmid indicated that both sides have taken considerable steps for the continuation of negotiations. Of course, the statement issued by Ashton’s spokesman, Michael Mann, was very cautious and devoid of any kind of judgment. Naturally, various scenarios are put forth in all forms of negotiations and consultations. The current nuclear negotiations between Iran and the West are function of the latest meetings taken on this issue. However, certain Western diplomats, especially the Americans, have expressed doubt about continuation of negotiations between Ashton and Jalili (Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator) and this issue has been reiterated most recently in the name of “anonymous but informed” European diplomats. This is why one may say that different voices are heard about Iran’s nuclear case on the Atlantic side of the negotiations whose main goal is to influence the process of talks between Iran and the West. This has happened in spite of the fact that new hopes had arisen about the possibility of a constructive interaction between Iran and the West.

Q: Certain parties inside the European Union have been noting that the Union is ready to lift some anti-Iranian sanctions. Does this have anything to do with those different voices that you talked about?

A: The dissociation between European and US positions on Iran’s sanctions is not complete yet, but due to economic conditions in Europe and as a result of the ongoing financial crisis and other problems, adoption of a contractionary policy will have negative effects on Europe and on the world, in general. Therefore, it would be to Europe’s benefit to reach a new form of agreement with its age-old trade partner, that is, Iran. At the present time, European countries are, among themselves, trying to consider exemptions to Iran sanctions. Some of these sanctions are, in fact, the result of bilateral or unilateral decisions made in coordination with the United States and, therefore, EU officials should consult the United States before doing anything about sanctions. Since the US presidential polls are forthcoming and European countries have not been generally happy about the viewpoints of the Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, they are more willing for the incumbent President Barak Obama to win a reelection. This would be also more beneficial to European countries in view of the current political and economic conditions in Europe. Any discussion about dissociation between Europe and the United States on Iran sanctions should not be necessarily limited to parameters related to the P5+1, but should pay more attention to meticulous details. Of course, criticism of the West by China and Russia over economic sanctions imposed on Iran by the Western countries should be also taken into consideration. This means that Europe determines its final approach to sanctions while being attentive to the delicate balance of its relations with other international powers.

Q: To what extent do you think that the US presidential elections can influence the course of Iran’s nuclear case?

A: Obama is not willing to open a new front and add anything to its already long list of problematic issues before the forthcoming election in November. This is also evident in the case of Syria. His current approach to international issues is based on a policy of tactical persistence and tolerance. This is why he had told the former Russian president, Dmitri Medvedev, that if reelected as the US president, he would show more resilience on the deployment of NATO’s missile shield in Europe. This was disclosed inadvertently when Obama was talking to Medvedev in a conference while forgetting to turn his microphone off. After the revelation, he asked Russia not to make any judgment on this issue because he would shelve taking a final position on this issue until after the election. For this reason, Obama cannot be expected to do much in the few months which lay ahead. Following the US presidential polls and during the first 100 days after it, we can expect developments. At that time, he will be giving scores to many countries according to their positions on him and their approaches to the US presidential election.

Q: What is your opinion about Russia’s role in Iran’s nuclear case?

A: Russia’s positions on this issue should be assessed from different viewpoints. When it comes to nuclear technology, Russia displays a structural behavior, on the one hand, and a software behavior, on the other. As for its structural behavior, Russia has always tried to play its role in building Iran's nuclear power plant in Bushehr. At a time that the Western countries had taken a totally negative policy toward Iran, Russians were trying to help Iran with this project. Of course, this project is still underway and has not been completed yet. On the other hand, due to the role that Russia is playing within framework of the P5+1 group as well as in the International Atomic Energy Agency and the United Nations Security Council, it is trying to balance its approach to Iran with that of the West. Russia’s software policies are, however, somehow different. While putting due emphasis on its commitment to nonproliferation of nuclear weapons, Moscow has in parallel supported Iran's right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. As for negotiations with the P5+1, we have seen Russia take various positions which are tactically different from one another. Russia’s position on Iran's nuclear issue has been a function of different parameters. One of those parameters is the quality of Russia’s relations with the West while Moscow’s energy policy and international oil price have been also doing their part in determining Russia’s position on Iran's nuclear case. As for anti-Iranian sanctions, Russia has communicated its concerns to the West. Moscow has also its own special position on the situation in international fuel market which has not been proclaimed clearly yet.

However, when deciding on sanctions resolutions against Iran, their viewpoint converged with that of the Western countries. Under present circumstances that situation has partially changed. Despite its cooperation with Iran's nuclear energy program, Russia has been always willing to cut Iran's hand in the European natural gas market. Therefore, Russia has been interacting with Turkey and certain Eastern European countries on Blue Stream project. This proves beyond any doubt that Russia is trying to take the lead in engineering security structure in Europe through its energy policy and reduce Europe’s reliance on other energy sources. On the other hand, Russia has been smart enough to make the most of prolongation of Iran's nuclear project. On the whole, however, in view of the role that the incumbent President Vladimir Putin has regularly played, both in the past and in the present, in setting the direction of Russia’s foreign policy, Iran enjoys an independent position in the Russian strategy. As a result, both sides can look for new solutions in their interactions and their approaches to various regional and other essential issues. On the whole, Russia is trying to play a balancing role in Iran's nuclear case.

Q: As you said, Putin seems to be bent on changing the Russian foreign policy during his new term in office as the president. This explains his renewed efforts to play a more effective role in the case of Iran and the ongoing crisis in Syria. Is this decision a result of intensifying regional challenges such as Iran's nuclear program or the result of a new strategic approach in Putin-era Russia?

A: What Putin said in a recent meeting with the Russian ambassadors to other countries clearly shows that Russia has come to grips with the reality of new threats. These threats are aimed at influencing the Eurasian policy that Putin had laid out before his election. The point is that the West is designing new political games, especially in the Central Asia to give new addresses to Russia and divert Moscow’s attention from Eurasia to traditional spheres of the former Soviet Union. The West’s interactions with Uzbekistan as well as new developments in Tajikistan with an eye on the NATO’s measure to sent troops to common border between Afghanistan and Tajikistan are prominent instances of Russia’s effort to engage with new conditions. Putin is currently following special plans which are based on his own forecast of future challenges facing the country and are based on his viewpoint about the relationship between Russian interests and those of the West. He believes that Russia should not bargain over its vital interests; bargaining should be limited to common interests between Russia and the West.

Q: Are Russia’s negative positions on political developments in Syria a result of threats that Moscow perceives from the West?

A: Russia’s stance on Syria is not necessarily a function of the situation in the Middle East. Moscow’s stance, however, is net result of the future outlook of the political situation in the Mediterranean, the West’s behavioral model, and Russia’s effort to maintain its traditional foothold in the Middle East. Therefore, although the resistance that Russia is showing in Syria can be understood within framework of Moscow’s opposition to the West’s strategy, Russia has also let the West know that it is ready for bargaining on certain tactical issues. Therefore, on the one hand, Russia has been insisting on its support for stability in Syria and opposing the policy of countries which are trying to weigh down on the Syrian developments by sending in insurgents. On the other hand, however, Moscow has been trying after poorly managed negotiations in Geneva, to find solutions to encourage national participation in Syria, so as to reconstruct the future outlook of Geneva negotiations and to reinvigorate the peace plan which has been offered by Kofi Annan. From this viewpoint, Russia is playing a deterrent role with regard to hardware equations in Russia. However, when it comes to software issues, Russia is trying to be in charge of final management of the game. Through this policy, Russia has finally managed to depict the West as a belligerent party before the world’s public opinion while introducing Moscow as a country with initiatives which intends to mediate between belligerent parties and seeks peace and tranquility.

Key Words: Europe, Anti-Iran Sanctions, P5+1 Group, Russia, Anti-Syrian Resolutions, Iran’s Nuclear Case, Koleini

Source: Tehran Emrooz Daily
Translated By: Iran Review.Org

More By Mohammad Farhad Koleini:

*Iran and Future Approach to Nuclear Negotiations:

*Why US Opposes Iran's Role in Syria?:

*West’s Confusion in Interaction with Iran:

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