Expert Meetings, the Sole Result of Moscow Talks

Friday, June 22, 2012

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

After long discussions about the framework of multifaceted talks between Iran and the big world powers, the Iranian diplomats making up Iran's negotiating delegation and representatives of the P5+1 group – the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany – finally met in Moscow to follow up on previous negotiations in Istanbul and Baghdad. International media have kept a powerful focus on Iran's talks with the P5+1 and publish analytical reports on every single move of either side of the negotiations. The analysts have been so painstaking in this regard that even the shape of the negotiating table in Moscow was mentioned as a sign that negotiations in the Russia capital were doomed from the very outset. Nonetheless, despite efforts made thus far, differences on the main framework of negotiations seem to be still in place. The Iranian Diplomacy has reviewed the latest developments with regard to Moscow talks in the following interview with Mohammad Farhad Koleini, a senior analyst of international strategic issues.

Q: What is your opinion about the general trend of Iran – P5+1 talks in Moscow given the fact that the two sides have negotiated for four rounds?

A: The negotiations in Moscow were the final result of processes which were initiated by both parties before Moscow talks. First of all, the two sides went to Moscow after they failed to achieve a conclusive result in previous Baghdad talks. During negotiations in Baghdad (which started on May 23), the two sides barely evaded confrontation at the eleventh hour only through mediation of Moscow and Beijing. Later on, top negotiators of Iran and the P5+1, namely Saeed Jalili and Catherine Ashton, held a private meeting and the subsequent statement which was released by Ashton after consultation with the Iranian side, paved the way for the Moscow meeting. After negotiations were over in Baghdad, the two sides decided to come up with a clear framework for further negotiations. However, despite serious follow-ups by the Iranian negotiators to hold expert-level meetings, Catherine Ashton’s deputy, Helga Schmid, did not show any readiness for taking part in such meetings up to the very day that Moscow negotiations started on June 18. This clear void of consultation between the two sides was noticed by international media and was followed by a one-hour phone talk between Ashton and Jalili. The comments made by the two sides during that phone call, formed the basis of subsequent Moscow talks. Of course, in parallel to the P5+1’s dawdling, there was intense media fire against Iran's nuclear energy program by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) whose report was issued after Baghdad meeting. Therefore, a complete set of variables had entered the process in the interval between Baghdad and Moscow talks which had a powerful impact on the agenda and short-term goals of negotiations in the Russian capital.

Given Moscow’s follow-up on Baghdad talks and the statement that Russia had already issued in this regard, Kremlin clearly expected nuclear negotiations on its soil to have a logical output. On the other hand, the latest positions of the United States President Barack Obama following his meeting with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, on the sidelines of G-20 meeting, included explicit emphasis on the need to continue negotiations process in order to achieve a conclusive result.

In practice, however, certain members of the P5+1 -- which include the United States, the UK, France, China, Russia, and Germany -- had made up their mind to enter negotiations with the old agenda on the table. The Iranian side, meanwhile, expected to receive a clear response to its proposed package during Moscow negotiations which would set the course of future interactions. During the second round of Moscow talks, the two sides engaged in more detailed discussions and it was there that the Iranian side put forth its five principles as well as three steps that it expected negotiating parties to take in addition to necessary technical specifications. Of course, independent approaches taken by certain members of the P5+1 group are noteworthy. Naturally, it will take time to reach maximum degree of consensus on any subject and nobody can expect a rapid and effective solution to emanate from just a single phase of talks. As the two sides’ representatives announced at the end of Moscow talks, expert-level meetings are going to continue between Iran and the P5+1 in the Turkish port city of Istanbul.

It should be noted that the European side had shown through its behavior that it did not see Moscow a venue for discussing further intensification or even revision of anti-Iran sanctions. The European representatives proved beyond any doubt that these issues should be considered within framework of the European Union and trans-Atlantic relations. Therefore, even initiatives proposed by Russia and China to create a kind of balance between the two sides are still far from comprehensive because the main goal of negotiations is not transparent yet and it is not clear whether negotiating parties are trying to reach an agreement to take concessions from each other. The Iranian side expects this issue to be clarified first so that it will be able to clearly see the beginning and the end of the negotiation course and shape its policies and interactions accordingly. The announcement by the P5+1 that Iran has the right to choose does not smack of understanding. They are actually trying to face Iran with a dilemma by throwing the ball into Iran's court. In the meantime, they are looking for excuses to justify their irrational efforts. Iran will certainly not remain indifferent to this state of affairs.

Q: Moscow’s step by step initiative could originally drew some attention during negotiations in Baghdad and Istanbul. It seemed that the plan would undergo further discussion in Moscow. However, what do the Western sides expect from Iran when the European countries are not even ready to negotiate anti-Iran sanctions?

A: The Russian plan has a gradual nature and is supposed to be implemented in steps and on the basis of mutual action. The same quality has been seen in other initiatives proposed so far as well. Some research centers, including Oxford Research Institute, also came up with another step by step initiative last March which consisted of different levels of interaction between the two sides. Even the Chinese officials are said to have worked out similar plans of their own. The two sides had not agreed on any of such plans to be taken as the basis of their negotiations in Moscow talks. The Iranian side will naturally focus on two major issues: recognition of its right to enrich uranium to low levels of concentration (LEU or low enriched uranium) and removal of international and unilateral sanctions. The other party, however, emphasizes on its three main concerns: that Iran should shut down Fordow nuclear site, stop enriching uranium to 20-percent level and take 145 kg of highly enriched uranium (HEU) out of the country. From this angle, one may say that elements that form the concept of a “first step” in either party’s mind are not proportionate and similar. Of course, some Western members of the P5+1 group are not necessarily focused on these issues. They actually are not there to find a resolution to Iran's nuclear issue, but their main concern is the very nature of the West’s interactions with basic motivations of the Islamic Revolution of Iran. In a final analysis, these countries believe that prolonging negotiations while keeping sanctions against Iran in place, serves their strategic interests. They aim to undermine Iran's economic infrastructures and erode the country’s might. As a result, they actually believe that tough sanctions can have many functions for them.

On the other hand, Russia insists that unilateral sanctions beyond the UN Security Council resolutions should be lifted and the United States and European Union should give up this unilateral and bilateral policy. China shares the same position and has categorically pursued that position up to this time. There are, of course, different viewpoints as to whether Iran considers enriching uranium to above 20 percent its inalienable right. If Iran decides to take steps for building new nuclear reactors, it will need to continue enriching uranium at a higher level. This is why the Western media showed reaction to positions taken by head of Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Fereidoun Abbasi, following Baghdad talks between Iran and the P5+1. Of course, the Western countries offered some proposals to Iran in Baghdad. For example, they indicated their readiness to help Iran with building new nuclear reactors. This proved that the West by no means wants Iran to move toward uranium enrichment above 20 percent. Therefore, they are pursuing negotiation tactic in order to convince Iran not to exceed 20 percent ceiling for enriching uranium and believe that negotiations will enable them to achieve a deterrent mechanism to stop Iran's progress in research and development of its nuclear energy program.

Therefore, expectations from negotiations and their continuation follow two different tracks. In this stage, Moscow talks provided a good ground for the continuation of negotiations at a minimum level by allowing the two sides to coordinate their actions if expert meetings proved successful.

Q: Russia is apparently following a special approach to finding a resolution to Iran's nuclear issue since Putin has been reelected president. Moscow, therefore, is trying to have greater influence on the overall process of nuclear negotiations. Since the latest round of negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 were held in Russia’s capital, Moscow, what is your opinion about role of Putin’s Russia in resolving Iran's nuclear issue?

A: Russia’s policy is a totally professional policy. As a result, it cannot be summarized in just a process of changes and developments. Mr. Putin, of course, has taken a more positive approach to interactions between the two countries [Iran and Russia] and there is no doubt about this. At the same time, however, different voices are sometimes heard in Russia. The position taken by [the Russian foreign minister] Mr. [Sergei] Lavrov and his colleagues at the Russian Foreign Ministry indicate the existence of a balanced policy. However, in the past, we even saw Nikolay Makarov, Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Russia, claiming that Iran's nuclear issue was comparable in gravity to that of North Korea. This position, in fact, ignored that North Korea has already tested its nuclear bomb and now considers itself a nuclear power. This comparison was carried out at a time that the [Supreme Leader of] Iran [Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei] has clearly decreed pursuit of nuclear weapons haraam [religiously forbidden] and Iranian officials have frequently announced that the country is only trying to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. Iran seeks a new quality of nuclear disarmament in the region and in the world. Russia sometimes takes a position on important and controversial issues, in line with its soft power capacities, to get over secondary obstacles.

Of course, Mr. Putin reiterated in his inauguration address as the new Russian president that his decision was to seek a step by step, mutual and peaceful solution to Iran's nuclear issue. Mr. Putin also met with his American counterpart, Mr. [Barack] Obama on the sidelines of G-20 meeting to put emphasis on the need for Iran to respect its international obligations. This is a very general statement because Iran, on the other hand, has rejected legal basis of many sanction resolutions and has refused to recognize them as legal. For this reason, Tehran does not consider sanctions resolutions as a basis for the agenda of nuclear talks. On the other hand, Iran still emphasizes on its membership in the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and underlines the necessity of preventing proliferation of nuclear weapons. The country is also pursuing negotiations with the P5+1 group on the basis of the NPT. Here, therefore, we are confronting a two-faced problem. On the one hand, when it comes to the issue of international obligations, Iran has continuously and rigorously stressed on its commitment to the NPT. On the other hand, when it comes to obligations emanating from the Security Council’s resolutions against Iran, Tehran has invariably announced that it does not consider those resolutions legally valid and authentic. I think that the Iranian nuclear negotiators have developed a mentality of “mutual transparency and confidence yes, but deprivation and futile talks no.” On the other side of the table, the EU foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, who also heads the P5+1 negotiating delegation has simply repeated the same positions that the group took in past sessions and has reiterated the same conditions. Therefore, an agreement to go on with nuclear talks is the best possible outcome of Moscow negotiations. Now, the important issue is the degree of the P5+1’s commitment to engaging in preliminary interaction with Iran.

Looking back at your question and to sum it up, it seems that given the existing circumstances and conditions as well as the current course of developments, Russia is trying to take a multifaceted approach to Iran's nuclear issue. On the one hand, Russia should fulfill its obligations with regard to building Iran's nuclear power plant in Bushehr, at most, up to the end of 2012. Some analysts, who are concerned about undue prolongation of the construction process at Bushehr plant, actually believe that the power plant has been held hostage in order to be used as a tool to moderate Iran's positions. On the other hand, Russia is firmly opposing the West’s unilateral sanctions against Iran arguing that they are at loggerheads with the contents of the Charter of the United Nations. At the same time, while trying to remain a member of the P5+1 group, Russia is also attempting to come up with new ideas in order to be recognized a powerful country capable of finding solutions to issues of international import. This is why the general direction of Russia’s policies seems to follow a tactical pluralism which is not necessarily addressed to Iran.

Key Words: Moscow Talks, Expert Meetings, Iran-P5+1, Anti-Iran Sanctions, Step by Step Plan, Russia’s Policy, Koleini

Source: Iranian Diplomacy (IRD)
Translated By: Iran Review

More By Mohammad Farhad Koleini:

*Iran's Nuclear Case: West's “Empty Spoon” Policy:

*P5+1 and Opportunities for Francois Hollande:

*Success of Iran-P5+1 Talks Hinges on Realism and Change in Attitude:

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