Managing Almaty Negotiations without Capitulation or Escalation of Tension

Monday, February 25, 2013

Mahmoud Reza Golshanpazhooh
Executive Editor of Iran Review

As the public announcement goes, the new round of nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 group of world powers will be held in the Kazakh city of Almaty on February 26, 2013. Before negotiations get underway, it would be helpful to mention a few points which would clearly show how the Iranian side looks upon the negotiations in their totality. In fact, the present article will try to shed more light on this issue without approaching technical issues and merely on the basis of issues related to the form of negotiations such as the impact of anti-Iran sanctions on negotiations, the way that negotiations are carried out and the best way for improving mutual understanding between the negotiating parties.

First: There is no doubt that sanctions are putting a lot of pressure on the Iranian people and this is not an issue which can be possibly denied. However, two points cannot be overlooked here:

A. According to historical experience, there are very rare instances, if any, in which a country has caved in the face of bullying demands of another country merely as a result of economic pressures. This will become even rarer if intense hostility and distrust has overshadowed bilateral relations between the two countries over a few decades (which has been the situation between Iran and the West). Here, a mention should be made of the valuable work of Robert Anthony Pape whose result was published in International Security magazine in 1997. That article was, in fact, a critique of another research carried out by Gary Hufbauer, Jeffrey Schott and Kimberly Ann Elliot, which focused on the effectiveness of the economic sanctions in making the country under sanctions give in to demands of the country which imposes those sanctions. (1)

B. The main impact of sanctions falls in the area of human rights. In fact, in most cases, economic sanctions violate the basic human rights of the inhabitants of the country under sanctions. Although the governments of the United States and Canada as well as the member states of the European Union have apparently emphasized that sanctions have been never imposed to cover such vital issues as medicines, any fair observer will know that the reality is quite different. Two examples are noteworthy in this regard.

The first example is the remarks made by David Cohen – undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence at the US Treasury Department – on the impact of anti-Iran sanctions. In those remarks, he totally denied that the sanctions imposed by the United States had prevented the country from purchasing needed medicines for its people. The second example is remarks by the Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird on July 22, 2010. He also denied that the anti-Iran sanctions have any adverse effect on the Iranian people noting that the sanctions only covered those companies and persons who played a part in Iran's nuclear energy program. To refute Cohen’s argument, it would suffice to just consider a single paragraph from a recent research published by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars about the negative impact of the US-engineered sanctions on the supply of vital medicines to the Iranian people. The paragraph reads as such: “Draconian penalties for a potential US sanctions violation are discouraging the involvement of international banks in humanitarian trade with Iran. Even when the most reputable American and European pharmaceutical companies are involved, and their lawyers have completed all the necessary paperwork from the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), nearly all banks that Iran deals with prefer to err on the side of caution. Their hesitation is understandable given that a mistake could earn a bank the wrath of the US Treasury Department and fines that exceed $1 billion. The recent experience of a reputable Iranian pharmaceutical group shows the magnitude of the problem. When a senior company representative flew to Paris to present a French bank with documentation showing that the trade was fully legal, he was told: ‘Even if you bring a letter from the French president himself saying it is OK to do so, we will not risk this.’

With Iranian banks blacklisted and international banks hesitant, very few options are left for Western companies trying to sell their medicines and humanitarian products to Iran. In fact, the companies we interviewed gave reference to only a single banking channel being used for opening letters of credit in order to carry out pharmaceutical trade with Iran. Consequently, humanitarian trade is greatly reduced; what is taking place is delayed due to the extra checks involved that ensure the legality of every transaction and also because the volume of trade exceeds the said bank’s capacity. These delays, in turn, play a prominent role in causing shortages of medical supplies. A similar situation exists in terms of shipping, insurance, and other services needed for trade.” (2)

The rebuttal of John Baird’s remarks will also follow a cursory review of the list of organizations and institutes which have been targeted by Canada’s sanctions against Iran since 2012. The list includes: Iran Pharmaceutical Development and Investment Company (IPDIC), Exir Pharmaceutical Co, Shahid Modarres Pharmaceutical Industries Co. (SMPI), Razi Vaccine and Serum Research Institute, Pasteur Institute of Iran, Sina Darou Lab.…

The list contain the names of the most important and the biggest pharmaceutical companies inside Iran which the Canadian government has officially announced  to be target of Ottawa’s anti-Iran sanctions under the pretext that they are involved in the Islamic Republic’s nuclear activities!!

Second: Any form of diplomatic negotiation can pursue two major goals: firstly, to achieve a zero-sum game for both negotiating parties and, secondly, to find a suitable, fair, and face-saving solution. If the first goal is pursued, the “negotiation” would be doomed to failure from the very beginning. In fact, when each party to the negotiation sits at the negotiating table with the primary goal of bringing the other party to its knees, there could be no such thing as diplomacy involved in those talks. At present, this general conception is gaining support in Iran that the P5+1 group – including the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia plus Germany --, or at least four of its six member states, are trying to switch the course of negotiations toward such a fatal destiny. The fact that the United States independently decides to rely on its economic and military power as well as the influence it sways on the decisions made by other countries to block the sale of the Iranian oil in return for other countries gold or precious metals only a few weeks before the negotiations and then – if the reports published by the Western media are taken to be authentic – announces that such a sanction can be removed in return for the closedown of Iran's Fordow nuclear site, affirms the Iranians’ perception. This state of affairs also shows that the West pursues to solve the problem through 100-percent pressure policy. When Iranians see that just a few days before negotiations with the P5+1 group, the US Congress gets prepared to pass new sanctions against Tehran, they will support this viewpoint more determinedly and will clearly find out that unfortunately, despite the recent affirmative tone of the US officials, there is no honesty in their remarks.

In the second approach, however, the main goal is to find a solution. To do this, both parties should proceed with goodwill at the same time. I think some stages of this approach which can be applied to the forthcoming negotiations in Almaty are as follows:

- Firstly, both parties should express their views in public saying that they are optimistic about the outcome of the negotiations (this will be effective in putting an end to the existing atmosphere of doubt and suspicion and can, at least, create a better atmosphere for the negotiations);

- Secondly, they should try to achieve an agreement on a comprehensive package through a step-by-step approach to address the existing concerns and questions and find proper answers to those questions. Iran has been insisting on this for many years and it seems that if Russia and China get out of their current state of numbness, take advantage of their relationship with both parties to the negotiations, adopt a more active diplomacy and push on with the negotiations, this goal can be achieved. Iran has frequently announced that it is ready to engage in negotiations for the resolution of all issues related to its nuclear energy program within framework of a modality. It seems that if the final outcome of negotiations in Almaty would be merely an agreement on the formulation of the aforesaid modality, it would be a good ground for a win-win game for both parties.

Finally, the viewpoints expressed by the Leader of the Islamic Revolution (Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei) who discussed Iran's nuclear issue once more in his recent address a few weeks ago, are clear representation of Iran's realistic approach to the nuclear issue. There were a few important highlights in the Leader’s speech which can be summarized as follows:

1. Iran is waiting for logical and honest steps to be taken by the United States, not merely words which are meant for propaganda purposes;

2. Iran is committed to diplomacy and logic and is ready to negotiate under fair and equal conditions;

3. Imposing sanctions and posing military threat to a country can be called anything, but diplomacy;

4. Iran submits to logic and will maintain its patience in order to see it in the other party, but will never give in to bullying.

At any rate, if the West intends to go to Almaty negotiations with the same outdated approach in order to give unimportant and useless concessions to Iran, the fate of the negotiations can be predicted as of now. However, if the goal is to promote diplomacy as well as purposive and real negotiations, many positive and suitable opportunities can be found and even created. At least, from the viewpoint of an optimistic Iranian, the remarks of the Iranian Leader have laid the ground for a positive atmosphere to govern the negotiations.


(1) Robert A. Pape, Why Economic Sanctions Do Not Work?, International Security, Volume 22, Issue 2, (Autumn, 1997), 90-136

(2) Siamak Namazi, Sanctions and Medical Supply Shortages in Iran, Dubai-based consultant and former Public Policy Scholar, Woodrow Wilson Center, Feb, 2013.

Key Words: Almaty Negotiations, Iran, P5+1, Capitulation Escalation of Tension, Sanctions, Medical Supplies, Ayatollah Khamenei, Golshanpazhooh

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