Report of A Meeting: Iran's Regional and International Position Following Geneva Negotiations

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Behzad Ahmadi Lafuraki

At the evening of Monday February 17, 2014, the House of Political Science Scholars was the venue of a meeting entitled, “Iran's Regional and International Position Following Geneva Negotiations.” The session was attended by Seyed Mohammad Kazem Sajjadpour, Sadeq Zibakalam, Keyhan Barzegar, and Jahangir Karami.

The first scholar to address the meeting was Dr. Seyed Mohammad Kazem Sajjadpour, University professor and the former Ambassador and Deputy Permanent Representative for the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations in Geneva, who delivered a speech on “The Eleventh Administration and Multilateral Diplomacy.”  During his speech, he tried to explore the conceptual and executive aspects of the multilateral diplomatic approach adopted by the administration of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. Dr. Sajjadpour said that the multilateral aspect of the Iranian diplomacy is now stronger than any time before due to various resolutions that the United Nations Security Council has adopted against the country. He argued that from a conceptual standpoint, both the new Iranian administration and its foreign minister [Mohammad Javad Zarif] have a more accurate understanding of diplomacy and international conditions and are well aware that Iran is currently experiencing interesting and remarkable conditions in the world of politics and is one of the influential political powers rather than simply being a passive player. The scholar added that there were previously three strategic political players, that is, Iraq, Syria, and Egypt, which determined the arrangements in the Middle East region during the past 50-60 years. However, he added, all three of them are now playing no role beyond their geographical borders. The scholar noted that at present, the sole political player in the Arab world, which is active beyond its borders, is Saudi Arabia though some experts believe that the role played by Riyadh has its roots in Saudi Arabian officials’ nervous and reactive response to regional developments. As put by Dr. Sajjadpour, conditions and developments that have governed Iran following the latest presidential elections in 2013, have served to promote Iran's standing in the region. Sajjadpour argued that following the election of Dr. Hassan Rouhani’s administration, the entire world has reached the conclusion that previous approach to Iran, which was based on Iranophobia, Islamophobia and Shiaphobia, has been wrong and incorrect. As a result, putting an end to efforts aimed to promote Iranophobia, will allow the Islamic Republic to play its role as a political player at a time that the international system is undergoing fundamental changes. From an executive viewpoint, the speaker noted, the new Iranian nuclear negotiating team has appeared very professional and its members really believe that people’s support is the best backing for diplomacy and the executive powers of the negotiating team. The university professor added that the present diplomatic approach followed by Iran emanates from a consensus within the highest ranks of the country’s political system in which correct understanding has been combined with diplomatic self-confidence. He noted that a general change in conditions has been the most important achievement of the current diplomatic approach adopted by Iran, adding that Iranophobia was used as a means to establish a new regional order, but as a result of Iran's new diplomacy, cracks have already appeared in the structure of that political order. Dr. Sajjadpour further stated that the issue of using a military option on Iran is now facing serious challenges in the United States while Iran has been internationally recognized as a major regional power. He stated that Iran is currently the sole regional country which protects its own security and this issue has introduced the Islamic Republic as a real power in the region. In conclusion, Dr. Sajjadpour noted that the new Iranian diplomacy has sent a strategic shockwave through the entire Middle East region.

The second speaker of the meeting was Dr. Sadeq Zibakalam, writer, researcher, political analyst and Tehran university professor, who dedicated his speech to Iran's nuclear diplomacy. He started his speech by saying that ideology is the plight of diplomacy, emphasizing that ideology is an ominous entity and if it could entrap diplomacy, then a country’s national interests would be at stake. He added that an ideological approach has already caused serious diversion in Iran's nuclear issue and has turned the country’s nuclear energy program into a ground for Iran's confrontation with the West and the United States. He then focused on the role which has been played by the Principlist camp since the presidential polls in 2005 for giving an ideological hue to Iran's nuclear energy program, saying that the general approach taken by the Principlist politicians does not care for the country’s national interests. The university professor further noted that, in fact, the nuclear technology has no benefit either for Iran, or for any other country. He explained that the nuclear energy has had no positive effect on improving the gross national product (GNP) of Iran and there has been no innovation in Iran's nuclear energy program. Elaborating on the reasons behind the West’s opposition to Iran over the country’s nuclear energy program (including enrichment of uranium and processing of plutonium), Zibakalam said the West’s discriminatory approach to Iran is due to the fact that Iran has frequently announced that it aims to erase the Israeli regime from the map and by doing so, Iran has lost the confidence of international community. In conclusion, he noted that the most important achievement that Mr. Rouhani’s administration has had is to encourage the West to put renewed trust in Iran.

Dr. Keyhan Barzegar, chair of the Department of Political Science and International Relations at the Science and Research Branch of the Islamic Azad University and director of the Institute for Middle East Strategic Studies in Tehran, was the third speaker to address the meeting on the “Geneva nuclear agreement and its impact on the regional position of Iran in the Middle East.” He started his remarks by saying that the nuclear agreement reached in Geneva has bolstered Iran's regional role and this development has posed a major challenge to regional forces – notably Saudi Arabia and the Israeli regime – that are against Iran and put pressure on the United States in order to block the way to a comprehensive nuclear achievement with Iran. He continued by explaining about the proponents and opponents of the Geneva agreement, saying that the proponents mention a few reasons behind their support for the nuclear deal which include foiling Iranophobic efforts, changing Iran's image in the world, building new trust with the international community, and Iran's success in getting major world powers to the negotiating table when both parties have been engaged in talks on an equal standing. The opponents, he added, believe that since the United States cannot be trusted, Iran should not lose all its strategic cards, which have helped the country to take part in the negotiations on an equal standing, including the 20-percent enrichment of uranium on Iran's soil or the ongoing activities at Arak nuclear site. Dr. Barzegar also criticized the excessive focus on Iran-US relations as an aspect of the country’s nuclear issue, adding that this focus will only add to the complexity and sensitivity of the negotiations. He further explained about the positive effects of the Geneva agreement on Iran's regional role. The scholar noted that direct talks between Iran and the United States within framework of the P5+1 group, or even through limited bilateral meetings, have stirred great concern among regional players that are Iran's rivals such as Saudi Arabia and Israel, while bolstering Iran's regional role at the same time. Dr. Barzegar concluded by noting that the Geneva agreement has had very positive effects on the region, noting that bolstering Iran's regional role as a result of the agreement will greatly help to facilitate achievement of a final comprehensive agreement on Iran's nuclear energy program.

The fourth speaker of the meeting was Dr. Jahangir Karami, associate Professor at Faculty of World Studies, University of Tehran and Russia and Eurasia Analyst. He began his address by a brief review of the history of relations between Iran and Russia before focusing on the impact of Iran's nuclear case on those relations. He noted that the future world will witness more serious confrontation between the West and China and it is important to the West to know that on whose side Iran and Russia will stand. He then pointed to the cooperation between Iran and Russia in Afghanistan, lack of serious cooperation between the two countries in South Caucasus and suboptimal cooperation between Tehran and Moscow in the Caspian region, adding that the negative aspect of Iran-Russia cooperation has been more prominent than its positive aspect. The scholar further stated that cooperation between the two countries is more based on protecting the bipolar world system, defending the Westphalian order, and negation of certain features of the existing global system than real empathy between Tehran and Moscow. As put by Dr. Karami, threats posed and pressures exerted by the West as well as the spread of radical Islam have provided the main grounds for cooperation between the two countries during the past two decades, while Iran's animosity toward the international political system and Russia’s support for that system has been the main obstacle on the way of serious expansion of bilateral relations. He added that relations with the West are very important to Russia and Moscow gives priority to those relations over its relations with Iran. The scholar further stated that the nuclear case has worked as a brake to slow down development of relations between the two countries because the general principles in which Russia believes are not totally in line with the general course of the Islamic Republic of Iran's nuclear case. He also pointed to differences between the two countries over the contents of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), saying that Russia considers the 20-percent uranium enrichment by Iran as a red line. Dr. Karami added that Russians are not willing for Iran's nuclear case to provide a pretext for the West to boost its influence over Russia. Dr. Karami further noted that Moscow is trying to prevent military intervention of the West in Iran while, on the other hand, doing its best to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power. The scholar concluded by explaining about the positive effect of the Geneva agreement on bilateral relations between Tehran and Moscow, saying that the agreement has increased Iran's maneuvering power. He also emphasized that the mere possibility of improvement in Iran-US relations has caused great concerns among the Russian leadership.

*Behzad Ahmadi Lafuraki is the director of international relations at Tehran International Studies & Research Institute and analyst of EU and NATO affairs.

Key Words:  Iran's Regional and International Position, Geneva Negotiations, Hassan Rouhani, Iranophobia, Islamophobia and Shiaphobia, Middle East Region, Iran's Nuclear Issue, Iran-US Relations, Iran-Russia Relations, Ahmadi Lafuraki

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*Photo Credit: IRAS, Mehr News Agency, Khabar Online

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