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Meaningful Negotiations Require Constructive Steps

Monday, February 6, 2012

Content Analysis of Ms. Ashton Letter

Nabi Sonboli
Research Fellow of the Institute for Political and International Studies (IPIS), Tehran

In any text we have to distinguish between what the writer implies, what the text means and how the reader understands it. A letter can be written for acceptance or rejection. I assume that Ms Ashton intended the first. However, the content of the letter and US-EU behaviors does not support that. In the following I’ll try to analyze the content of the letter, both negatively and positively.

On January 20th 2012, the Spokesperson of Catherine Ashton, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice President of the Commission, issued a statement and published Ashton’s letter to Dr. Jalili that had been sent on October 21st 2011. In any text we have to distinguish between what the writer implies, what the text means and how the reader understands it. A letter can be written for acceptance or rejection. I assume that Ms Ashton intended the first. However, the content of the letter and US-EU behaviors does not support that. In the following I’ll try to analyze the content of the letter, both negatively and positively, from an Iranian point of view.

In the first paragraph Ms. Ashton welcomes Jalili’s “suggestion to resume talks” and “taking fundamental steps for sustainable cooperation”. Then she mentions the necessity of “continuous and long-term process of confidence-building and developing cooperation”... to “overcome the existing deficit of confidence in the nature of Iranian Nuclear Program”. In here, she limits the lack of confidence to “the nature of Iranian nuclear program” and asks implementation of one-sided confidence building measures by Tehran. While she knows very well that lack of confidence in Iran toward the US, UK, France and Germany, especially in the nuclear field, has a long documented history of unfulfilled promises and contracts. Those behaviors have been the basis of Iranian independent approach not only in nuclear field but also in many others.

In the second paragraph she emphasis on “comprehensive negotiated, long-term solution which restores international confidence in exclusively peaceful nature of Iranian nuclear program.” In this letter four times she refers to the nature of Iranian nuclear program and regards it as the main concern. It means that she calculatedly use the term. But Nature is a vague term and it can be defined in different ways. Ongoing concrete nuclear activities in Iran are under IAEA supervision and there has been no diversion according to IAEA reports. Consequently, they are peaceful. It means also that she has nothing to say about current nuclear activities in Iran. She uses a vague term to justify pressures and create hesitation in the audience’s minds about Iran intentions. She does not use the term “intention” because it is a defined legal term. This is a good method to create a deadlock without accepting any responsibility.

Then, she asks for something that is not so easy to provide: Restore confidence about the nature of a double use technology. In the same paragraph she refers to “Iran’s right to peaceful use of nuclear energy” based on NPT but leaves it to after rebuilding International confidence. It is not clear when and how international confidence will be restored. Confidence-building measures must be implemented while nuclear activities are going on. When there is no nuclear activity, there is no reason for lack of confidence and confidence-building is meaningless.

Furthermore, it means that there is no imminent threat and the West is not in a hurry to solve the problem. Rebuilding international confidence, even if it could be possible in some way, takes a long time. Like the North Korean case, the US is looking for prolonged nuclear negotiations as part of containment and a way of conflict management and controlling the tensions, not solving the problem.

In the third section, Ms Ashton mentions that “our initial objective is to engage in a confidence-building exercise aimed at facilitating constructive dialogue on the basis of reciprocity and step-by-step approach. Then she adds that “confidence building steps” involve “the full implementation of UNSC and IAEA resolutions. She uses terms like step-by-step, constructive and reciprocity, without mentioning anything about the steps that EU and the US are ready to take. At the same time, she asks Iran to implement resolutions that ask Iran to stop all its peaceful nuclear activities.

Suppose that the above mentioned questions and hesitations are natural in such a complicated problem and should be clarified during the negotiation process. Now let’s have a positive analysis of the same letter, which seems Tehran tend to do. And think about how we can have successful negotiations. The letter includes ideas that if successfully developed, could lead to a win-win solution. In the first paragraph Ms Ashton welcomes resuming talks to take fundamental steps for sustainable cooperation. In the same section she accepts that the problem is deficit of confidence, and a long term confidence building process is necessary. She also refers to respecting Iran’s right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy consistent with NPT, that Iran is very interested in.

Most of the positive terminologies have been used in the third paragraph. In here Ms Ashton refers to engaging in confidence building as initial objective aimed at facilitating constructive dialogue on the basis of reciprocity and step by step approach. Except the last phrase that refers to full implementation of UNSC and IAEA resolutions, this paragraph has a good potential that negotiators should work on it.

The main purpose of UNSC and IAEA resolutions are contributing to peace and preventing proliferation. If negotiations prevent proliferation and contribute to constructive cooperation between Iran and EU3+3, we can say that all parties have achieved their objectives. To achieve that, upcoming negotiations should be able to define initial, reciprocal confidence-building steps, at least. We also need a mechanism to overlook the behaviors of all involved parties to prevent sabotage and diversion of negations and trends from their main objectives.

In sum, the letter can be read both positively and negatively. Although, historical backgrounds strengthen negative interpretations and some believe that it is wrong to test someone many times, it seems that Tehran is interpreting the letter more positively and prefers to checks the US-EU intentions again. Future negotiations will provide a crucial opportunity for clarification of the messages and defining reciprocal steps. Sanctions, sabotages, terrorist activities, political pressures, military threats, have provided enough reasons for Iranian society and government to be really concerned about the nature of the US and EU policies. While all kind of pressures are going on, it is not so easy for Tehran to welcome minor vague signals. Some clear positive steps needed to change the current atmosphere.

If, like EU3 negotiations with Tehran from 2003 to 2005, the real target is to prevent Iran from having nuclear technology, everyone knows that those years have passed. If the final target is to gradually roll back the whole process to those years step by step, I can say for sure that it will never happen under any government. If EU and the US are really look for reciprocal and step by step confidence building, preexisting mistrust should not be strengthened by new misconducts. Confidence building measures should target behaviors that create mistrust. Iran is a rational player and distinguishes between unacceptable and acceptable demands.

The main problem is lack of confidence and double track approach is counterproductive. The pressure track, by strengthening existent mistrust, has undermined diplomacy and has led it to deadlock. Meaningful and serious negotiations require constructive behaviors not destructive ones. Recent EU and US sanctions strengthen pessimism about the nature of their approach. As a Persian proverb says, two hundred sayings are not equal with half a deed.

Source: Europe’s World
http://www.europesworld.org/

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