Reflections on New York Talks and Outlook of Future Nuclear Negotiations

Friday, October 3, 2014

Nader Saed

A review of historical experiences and study of the ongoing trend of nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 group of countries before and after the Geneva agreement was concluded between them, will bring important points to one’s mind. They are important in that they play a significant role in the analysis of phenomena related to that agreement as well as developments in bilateral or multilateral negotiations between Iran and the opposite parties.

The first point is that existence of conflict or difference between the two sides’ viewpoints on issues related to the form and nature of the nuclear problem is quite natural. Of course, the principle of agreement, as a phenomenon, has been a focus of attention for both sides and has been even a point at which their interests intersect. Also, when it comes to the content of the negotiations, due to different strategies followed by the two sides, existence of simple or even basic differences should be taken as totally natural. Such discrepancy stems from heterogeneous doctrine that the West has adopted with regard to Iran and is also affected by the two sides’ way of thinking, their attitudes about the existing and future situation, as well as power relations at regional and global levels.

Of course, the fact that Iran and the P5+1 group of countries have been able to achieve an interim agreement in Geneva in November 2013, and have been also able to agree on its extension for four more months while accepting certain obligations in the meantime, are all the other flip side of this coin. This is true because despite all conflicts and differences that are either intrinsic to such negotiations or are a result of temporal conditions or subject of talks, the two sides have been able to forge an agreement, though on certain issues and for a limited period of time. Then why they should not be able to achieve a similar agreement again when they have been able to implement those steps on which they had already agreed?

In the meantime, it seems that the most important practical and operational factor that has brought the negotiations to a standstill or has blocked remarkable progress in the formulation of the text of a comprehensive agreement is a change in the United States’ behavior. For certain reasons, Washington adopted a new approach to pave the way for an agreement with Iran both during talks in Geneva and Vienna, and of course, the concessions it secured through the agreement were not trivial at all. This is true because from their own specific viewpoint, the Americans claim that they have managed to prevent progress of sensitive aspects of Iran's nuclear energy program. However, after the Geneva agreement was clinched, despite the obligations accepted by Iran to further restrict its nuclear activities, especially after Iran took practical steps to suspend 20-percent uranium enrichment and eliminate its stock of 20-percent enriched uranium –by oxidizing half of it and diluting the other half – they went back to the irrational behavior they had demonstrated before the agreement. In this way, if this state of affairs continues, practical achievements of the Geneva agreement for Iran will be reduced to a minimum.

After the new round of negotiations started for the conclusion of a comprehensive agreement following the implementation of the interim Geneva deal, the American side has been putting the highest pressure on Iran in this stage. Believing that Iran will now give in to any limitation and will even accept to have a small-scale and watered down nuclear energy program in lieu of removal of sanctions, they have been discussing all articles of the comprehensive agreement according to the most austere technical criteria. The overall approach taken by Washington to nuclear talks with Iran has been demanding and extortionist in this stage. Even outside the negotiating room, the Americans have been urging Iran, through the Congress, National Security Council and similar institutions, to shut down its nuclear facilities. This is why during the fourth and fifth round of talks in the Austrian capital, Vienna, the two sides went as far as totally abandoning the negotiations. However, later on, the Americans were forced to modify their behavior and return to negotiations and opted to change their “tone,” of course, without making any practical change or modification to their “behavior.”

During the sixth round of talks in Vienna, the same excessive demands caused the two sides to set a four-month period of time for the continuation of the negotiations. They also accepted to implement the obligations of the interim Geneva deal, which had been already observed for six months, during the extension period.

Given the course of negotiations and its past developments, it would have been clearly irrational and unrealistic to expect negotiations in New York to lead to an opportunity for the conclusion of a comprehensive agreement even on a single item of essential issues that are subject of a possible comprehensive deal. This expectation could have been only realized if one of the two sides accepted to make serious modifications to its position and changed it basically. The Americans, do not follow such a policy in their diplomatic as well as foreign policy moves. On the other hand, Iran has fortunately refused to play the West’s game and give in to proposals put forth by the United States, and should continue to maintain that position.

As said before, approaches taken by Iran and the United States to achieving a nuclear deal are totally and completely different. Iran's behavior in the negotiations has been a function of a certain form of normativism. As a result, Tehran considers the content of the Geneva agreement as the main framework for the continuation of the nuclear talks and achievement of a possible comprehensive deal. Americans, on the opposite, build their approach on brute force because they think they have the upper hand in the negotiations believing that this is the result of the impact that sanctions have had on domestic and foreign policy approaches of the Islamic Republic. Although Iran's approach is better, the fact that it has failed to have a remarkable effect on the other parties means that it lacks a logic that would be accepted by all parties. The reasons is that negotiations over Iran's nuclear energy program have been lacking in necessary logical fundaments both in essence and with regard to their subject matter. The party that has been imposing illegal sanctions on Iran for a long period of time cannot be made to accept its mistake and try to make up for it merely through negotiations and without having its demands met.

Unfortunately, the behavior of other players involved in these negotiations has been so fluid and uncoordinated that they have not been able to serve as a factor to control and restrict the United States in its efforts, given that Washington has appeared most of the time as a centrifugal force which aims to undermine a possible nuclear deal with Iran. This is why nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 group of countries have practically turned into bilateral negotiations between Iran and the United States. The other parties make the success or failure to achieve an agreement conditional on the result of bilateral negotiations between these two players.

The next point is that it would be erroneous and unrealistic to expect nuclear negotiations to reach a final result before the end of the four-month period regardless of whether their venue is in New York, Geneva, or Vienna. From the viewpoint of trend research, the above point, that is, “determining the final outcome of an agreement in the eleventh hour,” is a special sign. In fact, during various rounds of negotiations, the two sides have reached an agreement only at the last minute. Even in case of the interim agreement in Geneva – which was clinched on November 23, 2013 – the agreement was suddenly reached and made public at a time that both sides expected the negotiations to hit a deadlock and be abandoned. In the sixth round of talks in Vienna, a new agreement, in the form of extending the Geneva deal, was also reached in the last minute. Less than two months have remained before the period considered for achieving a comprehensive deal expires, and it is quite unlikely that the two sides will achieve an agreement before that period is over. The fact that both sides have more or less shown themselves to be committed to achieve a final agreement is the last criterion and index, which has raised hope in the negotiations being finally fruitful. Finally, none of the two sides has accepted an “agreement at any price,” and this is why the last minutes will be a difficult time for them to make a decision.

At any rate, during Vienna 4 negotiations and afterwards, the Americans have behaved in such a way in the negotiating room that as if they don’t need an agreement with Iran and it is the Islamic Republic, which needs such an agreement and should pay the price for that agreement by enforcing maximum restrictions on its nuclear facilities. The fact that Obama emphasized during his address to the annual session of the United Nations General Assembly that Iran should not lose this opportunity, was a clear manifestation of this erroneous understanding on the part of Americans. This is why the conflicts between the two sides, especially with regard to the remaining 40 percent of the content of the comprehensive agreement, is actually a result of the United States’ excessive demands and Washington’s insistence on playing a game, which is quite at odds with the interim deal in Geneva. According to Geneva agreement, the West had been committed to remove all sanctions against Iran while Iran was supposed to regulate its uranium enrichment capacity in accordance with its practical need. The Americans, however, have been trying to reduce their commitment from “removing” anti-Iran sanctions to “suspension” of sanctions while ignoring Iran's “practical need” at the same time. Asking from Iran to limit its enrichment capacity between 1,500 and 4,500 SWU (separative work unit), that is, 15-40 percent of its existing capacity, or requiring the Islamic Republic to stop cascading centrifuges in its enrichment facilities are unwise and impractical demands, which represent an excessive effort by the United States to undermine negotiations. This comes despite the fact that the United States had previously conceded to respect Iran's need. If this situation continues, just in the same way that negotiations in New York led to no success for the resolution of these differences, further talks in Geneva and Vienna would not be able to break any new ground unless the Americans give up their excessive demands.

*Dr. Nader Saed is the Professor of International Law and Director of the Law and International Organizations Group in the Research Institute for International Relations (RIIR) based in Tehran – Iran.

Key Words: Future Nuclear Negotiations, New York Talks, P5+1 Group of Countries, Iran, US, Heterogeneous Doctrine, Geneva, Vienna, Enrichment Capacity, Saed

Source: Fars News Agency
Translated By: Iran Review.Org

*Photo Credit: Fararu

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