Let’s Not Squander Opportunities

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Letter of Mohammad Hassan Daryaei, an Iranian professor and researcher to the western think tanks and scholars on Iranian nuclear issues.

Dear Western Friends and Scholars,

Negotiations on Iran's nuclear dossier, although both sides have agreed in principle on many issues and have proposed similar technical solutions, still need time before they reach a comprehensive agreement and find solutions to outstanding problems, and the negotiations have only been extended by four months.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his American counterpart, Barack Obama, have come under severe fire in their countries, but both sides resolutely believe that there is still hope to reach a comprehensive agreement. Therefore, they have made great political investment in this regard and have shown firm determination to reach that goal.

Those political players who have reaped enormous strategic, political, economic and security benefits through Iran's nuclear crisis, including Israel and Iran's regional rivals, have proved to be the main obstacle on the way of a comprehensive agreement. They have been trying through extensive lobbying efforts at the US Senate to take the United States’ foreign policy hostage towards Iran. In parallel, they have been presenting unreal information on Iran and distort the facts in a bid to spread Iranophobia and to mislead the United States’ foreign policy by encouraging the White House to adopt maximalistic approach through excessive demands on Iran's nuclear energy program. Their hidden agenda, i.e. to prove that their presumption, which is “negotiations with Iran will get nowhere” has become perfectly clear.

Negotiations based on goodwill has historically been the most important tool used in international interactions in order to resolve issues of international importance. Even the bloodiest armed conflicts among countries can be resolved through negotiations and dialogue. Therefore, the importance of negotiations should by no means be downplayed. Nuclear talks between Iran and the United States and subsequent achievement of a comprehensive agreement will potentially be able to create a big crack in the wall of distrust between the two sides and set both countries on the course towards constructive interaction on the basis of broad common interests they have in the region. If realized, it will lead to a serious strategic change in the entire world.

How can we possibly help the negotiations towards the win-win situation? I believe that we should use the experiences of the past as a guiding beacon for future success; hereinafter, seven major obstacles, which have prevented the two sides to succeed in their negotiations over the past 10 years, will be briefly reviewed:

1. Excessive demands

Putting forth excessive demands by three European states negotiating with Iran over the country’s nuclear energy program in 2005 was the main reason behind the final failure of those talks. In their proposed package, they announced that the only objective guarantee acceptable to them about the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear energy program was for Iran to totally give up its right to enrich uranium on its soil. Now, let’s be realistic and after the lapse of 10 years, it would be wise to ask ‘Have the Western countries succeeded in depriving Iran of its right to enrich uranium?’ Hasn’t Iran been able to complete its nuclear fuel cycle? Hasn’t the country been able to increase the number of its operating centrifuges? Therefore, it is to be logically concluded that putting forth excessive demands will not necessarily help any negotiating party to achieve their desired result, but has even backfired in the case of Iran. As a result, demands brought up by the two sides should be balanced and logical.

2. Offering unrealistic proposals

It should be noted that offering unrealistic proposals, which amounted to overlooking Iran's existing technical capability both in terms of capacity to enrich uranium and its associated sites, and the quantity of equipment the country had for this purpose, was one of the main reasons behind the failure of past negotiations. Therefore, the past experience should not be replicated.  Offering proposals which call for Iran to reduce its enrichment capacity or shut down enrichment-related facilities and installations would be both unrealistic and impractical. The wise approach would be going along with existing technical realities and launching negotiations on their development. The main goal is to make sure that Iran's nuclear energy program would remain exclusively peaceful and no other goal should be pursued here.

3. Lack of  implementation of fundamental principles of the NPT in a nondiscriminatory manner

About half a century has passed since the principles, rules, structures and mechanisms of the nonproliferation regime have been formulated in the form of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The discriminatory nature of this regime has created two classes of states namely “the have” and “the have not”. The nuclear-weapon states as the first class states have been always bolstering that regime in order to make the most of the special privileges that had been given to them. The sole factor that has kept the nonproliferation regime acceptable for the non-nuclear weapon states is the pledge and commitment of nuclear-weapon states to facilitate the peaceful use of the nuclear energy for other countries and to go on with nuclear disarmament. The only way to expect the non-nuclear-weapon member states of the NPT to act within the treaty’s boundaries and observe their obligations is complete and nondiscriminatory recognition of their rights, especially with regard to peaceful use of nuclear technology. This right, which has been reaffirmed by the NPT review conferences by consensus, includes activities related to nuclear fuel cycle that encompasses uranium enrichment. Now, if a member state to the NPT decides for any reason to deprive another member state of its rights or put limitation on its right, this will amount to double discrimination and the NPT cannot really tolerate more pressure as a result of double discrimination.

4. Hazardous innovations in nonproliferation regime

The NPT nonproliferation regime is based on verification, not depriving member states of their rights. Therefore, coming up with such novel concepts as “preventing Iran from rapid breakout capability” which would lead to deprivation of a member state of its inalienable rights, has no legal basis in the nonproliferation regime and will only lead to complete breakdown of that regime. The concept of “breakout capability’’ is also unprecedented and unknown in the current non-proliferation practices.  So far, no restriction has been imposed on nuclear capabilities of Japan, South Korea, Canada, and European countries, based on this concept, but a system of inspection and supervision has been introduced for those countries. That system has been further strengthened through the Additional Protocol to the NPT in order to pave the way for further continuation of their sensitive and complicated peaceful nuclear activities. As a result, there is no reason why Iran should be an exception to this general rule.

5. Miscalculation

Miscalculations about the possible conduct of the other player are among the most important reasons behind failure of negotiations. For example, Iran assumes that the United States seek to destroy the peaceful nuclear infrastructure of the Islamic Republic and, therefore, continuation of the nuclear talks is not the main goal of Washington. On the other hand, the United States assume that Iran is bent on building nuclear weapons and can prevent the Islamic Republic from doing so by posing threats against and mounting pressure on Tehran. In this way, Washington ignores the fact that Iranians have never given in to pressure and threat and do nothing as a result of pressure. The policy of pressure and threat will only bolster the position of those groups in Iran that are opposed to negotiations and will further marginalize those political groups and circles that advocate negotiations and political dialogue as a foreign policy approach. Legal, strategic and religious impediments are the three levels barrier that prevent Iran from moving towards producing nuclear weapons.

6. Absence of a multilayered approach for strengthening  negotiations

The problem of distrust between Iran and the United States in the field of nuclear energy cannot be solely solved through official negotiations between diplomatic delegations, since Iran's nuclear case has technical, legal, political, economic and social dimensions. In order to provide suitable grounds for the negotiations, the two sides need to engage in extensive expert-level and unofficial interactions in the aforesaid fields. Think tanks as well as legal, religious and economic experts from across the world should increase their unofficial interactions and finally come up with joint proposals for the resolution of all the existing problems in various fields. The necessary potential for accomplishing this task already exists as Robert Einhorn, for example, has recently come up with an interesting initiative in a letter to the Iranian negotiating team outlining some proposals.

7. Short-term approach to nuclear talks

Engaging in negotiations should not be merely tactical, but should represent a firm long term political will. The effect of a short-term approach to negotiations on the negotiating parties would be lack of tolerance; but tolerance is needed to give the other side indispensable motivation throughout the negotiation process. On the contrary, a long-term approach will provide grounds for the resolution of many temporary through interaction. Time is meanwhile a helpful variable with regard to many technical matters.

Now, dear friends, scholars and think tanks in the US and other western countries, let’s take advantage of the existing political will and don’t squander opportunities. Let’s eliminate the seven aforesaid obstacles to the success of negotiations, and pave the way for making optimal use of the time that has remained in order to find a comprehensive solution based on a win-win logic.

Best Regards,

Mohammad Hassan Daryaei
University Professor & Senior Disarmament Researcher

Key Words: Negotiations, Iran's Nuclear Dossier, Hassan Rouhani, Barack Obama, Excessive Demands, Unrealistic Proposals, NPT, Miscalculation, Enrich Uranium, Win-Win Situation, Daryaei

More By Mohammad Hassan Daryaei:

*Will Einhorn’s Proposals Help Iran's Nuclear Talks?:

*Nuclear Negotiations with P5+1 Group and Geneva Agreement:

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