Nuclear talks: Good Omens and Lingering Challenges

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Mahmoud Reza Golshanpazhooh, Executive Editor of Iran Review
Firouzeh Mirrazavi, Deputy Editor of Iran Review

Nuclear negotiations are going on between Iran and representatives of the P5+1 group of countries as there is a short time before the deadline set by the two sides to hash out the general outlines of a comprehensive deal by the end of March. During the remaining time, both sides are expected to reach a complete and clear understanding of the framework of their final agreement and provide conditions to seal a comprehensive agreement by the end of June at most. There is no doubt that the negotiations will be more serious and tougher in the remaining few weeks. As a result, both the proponents and opponents of an agreement will make their last-ditch efforts to change the direction of the final agreement toward their own desired goals. However, a glance at the developments that have taken place in the past few weeks shows that new factors have entered the negotiations equation, which can have a profound effect on the two sides’ approaches to the nuclear talks and this is especially true about the Iranian side. Past experience has shown that if such developments are not taken into account collectively, they may be overlooked in the midst of numerous daily developments and events and will, thus, lose a large part of their value. For this reason, the following text is an effort to shed more light on some of these factors and assess them in a new way.

1. Remarks made by US Secretary of State when defending State Department’s proposed budget for 2016 financial year at the Foreign Relations Committee of the US House of Representatives

On Wednesday, February 25, 2015, John Kerry addressed the aforesaid committee, telling its members that according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Iran has observed its commitments as per the interim Geneva deal reached last November. He also addressed critical representatives of the Congress noting that there are certain people who are doing their best to condemn an agreement, which has not been even signed yet. Iran is a member of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and is allowed to have its own peaceful nuclear program.

2. Publication of Mossad’s secret assessment of Iran's nuclear program

On Monday, February 23, 2015, Aljazeera news network and the British daily, The Guardian, published the first part of secret documents  that covered assessments of Iran's nuclear program by the Israeli spy agency, Mossad. The documents clearly showed that the Israeli secret service had reached certain conclusions about Iran's nuclear program soon after an address by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the annual session of the United Nations General Assembly in 2012, which were totally at odds with the Israeli prime minister’s allegations on Iran's nuclear work.

3. Revelation of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) documents on the alleged activities by Iran for the production of nuclear weapons

The Bloomberg website  released a report on February 20, 2015, which revealed documents that showed the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has been trying to include in Iran's nuclear case fake documents about construction of nuclear weapons by Iran. If done, the fake documents would have prompted the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to go back over all documents related to Iran's nuclear activities. Just recently, a court hearing was held to see into the accusations against Jeffrey Alexander Sterling, a former CIA employee, who was arrested, charged, and convicted of violating the Espionage Act for revealing details about Operation Merlin to journalist James Risen. During the hearing, he affirmed that in February 2000, the CIA had tried to incriminate Iran with having made efforts to build nuclear weapons and also to disrupt Iran's nuclear work. Therefore, the CIA put into gear Operation Merlin, whose main goal was to provide the Islamic Republic with a flawed design for a component of a nuclear weapon in order to frame Iran.

It should be noted that this is not the first time that the IAEA officials have expressed doubt about the authenticity of information that have been released to prove that Iran has been running a military nuclear program. In fact, two former directors general of the IAEA, that is, Hans Blix and Mohamed ElBaradei, had found a lot of fault with these documents when they were at the helm at the UN nuclear watchdog.

4. New poll by the Gallup

The American research-based consulting company of Gallup said after conducting a recent opinion poll that at present, the Iranian people are more hopeful than a year ago about resolution of the country’s nuclear issue and achievement of an agreement with the P5+1 group of countries. When asked how hopeful they were that recent negotiations between Iran and the European Union about the country’s nuclear program will finally lead to a mutually acceptable agreement, 22 percent of respondents said they were “very hopeful.” According to Gallup, 48 percent of participants in the poll said they were “relatively hopeful.” This is while in the spring of 2013, only 13 percent of Iranians were “very hopeful” about achievement of such an agreement and 45 percent were “relatively hopeful.”

5. The threat by the US National Security Council to veto a congressional bill for supervision of the US Congress over an agreement with Iran

The US National Security Council, has announced that President Barack Obama will use his veto power to foil the approval of a bill proposed by senators, who sought to pave the way for the US Congress to supervise any possible deal with Iran over the country's nuclear issue. On Friday, February 27, 2015, four American senators proposed a bill according to which any nuclear deal with Iran should be overseen by the US Congress before it can enter into force. Based on the aforesaid bill, Barack Obama was obligated to submit to the Congress the text of any possible final agreement with Iran. The White House was also required to avoid of cancelling any sanctions against Iran for a period of 60 days. In reaction to the proposed bill, the National Security Council announced that if the senators passed the bill on Iran's nuclear agreement, the US president would veto the bill.

6. Netanyahu’s US visit and his controversial speech at the US Congress

A recent speech by the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was apparently warmly welcomed by the congresspeople. However, apart from the importance and originality of controversies between opponents and proponents of his speech inside the United States, the point, which should be taken as very important, was the cold reaction shown by Obama and a great number of the US foreign policy experts to Netanyahu’s speech. Meanwhile, before long, it was quite evident that Netanyahu’s speech could not have a tangible impact on the way that the United States engages in negotiations with Iran. On the contrary, the type of reactions shown to his speech indicated that a wide gap exists between an important part of the US leadership and the approaches taken by the Israeli prime minister, especially with regard to Iran's nuclear case. In fact, the final conclusion that could be driven from this development was that a country has been able by merely relying on logic and diplomacy to turn from a member of the so-called Axis of Evil to one of the most important reasons behind the existence of a wide gap between two strategic allies; that is, the United States and Israel. On the other hand, this change has taken place within the past few years and this clearly proves the value of the calculated approach that Iran has taken in this regard.


There are two noteworthy points here:

Firstly, although it is very important for the Iranian negotiating team to reach a final result through nuclear talks with the P5+1 group, the assumption that if such an agreement is not achieved, the administration of President [Hassan] Rouhani will lose legitimacy, or radical groups opposed to nuclear deal will be able to promote their views, is really a baseless assumption. A smart measure taken by the nuclear negotiating team and Mr. Rouhani, in person, during the past two years, was to be honest with people about the state of the negotiations. On the other hand, continued support of the Supreme Leader of Iran for the nuclear talks has left no place inside Iran to think that the position of the Iranian administration with regard to the nuclear issue is shaky. Therefore, there is minimum, if any, possibility that if negotiations are aborted, people would blame it on Mr. Rouhani or inefficiency of the nuclear negotiating team. It is also possible that in such a case, the administration and opponents of negotiations would reach a unified position on how to deal with possible escalation of sanctions and pressures on Iran and, in this way, unity in the country will be further enhanced.

Secondly, during the past years, Iran has taken a long stride combined with deep thinking and foresight, to increase its regional clout and has been able to take the best advantage of regional developments in this regard. Unlike what some Western and Arab experts have noted, the increasing influence of Iran is not due to reduced willingness of the United States for presence in the Middle East and Washington’s more attention to Southeast Asia, which might have prompted the Islamic Republic of Iran to make the most of this opportunity. Iran's clout, on the contrary, is more than anything else a result of the foreign policy mistakes committed by certain transregional countries that thought by supporting some regimes in the region, they would be able to protect their interests. This is why Iran managed to restore its natural position in the region at the lowest cost under many circumstances when Saddam’s regime fell in Iraq and the country’s Shia majority found more room to play a role in the country; when Saudi Arabia’s erroneous policies for supporting and promoting Takfiri ideas backfired; when the support lent by some Western and Arab countries to domestic unrest in Syria finally lead to growth of such radical and armed groups as the ISIS and al-Nusra Front; when disproportionate and violent measures taken by the Israeli army in its latest war with Hamas drew the attention of the world’s public opinion to profound conflicts that exist between the words and deeds of Israel’s leaders; and when mismanagement of crises in Bahrain, Yemen and even Libya led to more tension in the region. In the meantime, it is true that some factors like global oil price slump or problems resulting from sanctions have somehow slowed down the pace of growing influence of Iran in the region, and a possible failure in nuclear talks may further slacken that pace. However, the rising curve of Iran's regional might is a natural outcome of the country’s position, not a result of artificial measures and, therefore, it cannot be totally stopped under any conditions. This is a fact that we hope would be taken into special consideration by American and European experts away from any bias or prejudgment.

Key Words: Nuclear Talks, Good Omens, Challenges, P5+1, Iran, US Secretary of State, US House of Representatives, IAEA, Mossad, US Central Intelligence Agency, Gallup, US National Security Council, Regional Developments, ISIS and al-Nusra Front, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Golshanpazhooh, Mirrazavi

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*Photo Credit: Fars News, Press TV