Russia and “Independent” Initiative in Iran’s Nuclear Case

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Interview with Dr. Mehdi Sanaei
Member of the Iranian Parliament’s Foreign Policy Committee and Head of the Iran and Eurasia Research Center (IRAS)
By: Alireza Noori

Q: Dr. Sanaei, Russia’s secretary of National Security Council, Nikolai Patrushev visited Iran last week and his visit is to be reciprocated by the Iranian minister of foreign affairs, Mr. Salehi. Can this intensive diplomatic effort be considered “strategic dialogue between Tehran and Moscow?

A: Such visits can be considered from two angles. The first angle is the role that Russia is willing to play in Iran’s nuclear case which has been welcomed by Tehran. Russia has come up with a step by step plan to keep negotiations on the nuclear issue going. Tehran is ready to go with it on certain conditions and overall approach of the Iranian officials has been positive. The second reason for this visit was Russia’s renewed look to the east policy which gives priority to interaction with Iran. The interest that Russia is showing in eastern countries is due to increased presence of the United States and Europe in North Africa and the Middle East and also due to Russia’s internal problems in the run-up to presidential election. Thus, cooperation with Iran is on the agenda of Russia’s foreign policy as the time seems ripe for renewed dialogue between Tehran and Moscow.

Q: You said that Iranian officials have taken a positive approach to Russia’s initiative. However, different positions taken by various Iranian officials including President Ahmadinejad (rejection of the plan); Mr. Boroujerdi, head of Majlis National Security and Foreign Policy Commission (rejection of the plan) and Mr. Salehi (acceptance) show that a consensus on the Russian plan is lacking. What is your viewpoint?

A: It is noteworthy that Iranian officials have used different tones on the Russian plan. Iran has its own conditions for the acceptance of the Russian plan, but Iranian officials have generally welcomed the plan. So, I believe that the main reason behind those rejections was lack of enough information on the plan and the fact that it had been first presented to the United States. Tehran is waiting for more details. As I said, however, Tehran is generally positive toward Russia’s role in the nuclear issue.

Q: Can the plan be considered Russia’s effort to “mediate” in Iran’s nuclear case?

A: I think mediation is not a good term here. Russia’s initiative is an attempt to break the deadlock, not that Russia is mediating between Iran and 5+1. Russia is a member to that group. Various plans have been tested and failed before. Iran, naturally, insists on its right to peaceful nuclear energy and is not ready to give up that right. Tehran believes that 5+1’s demands are too much and many of them are politically motivated with no legal basis. Thus, negotiations have been at stalemate for some time. If Russia’s plan enjoyed solid legal basis and avoided of political motivations, it could be useful and clear the way for Iran’s nuclear case to be taken from the United Nations Security Council back to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Q: What are the most important fortes and weaknesses of Russia’s plan?

A: Perhaps, there will be more detailed negotiations between Tehran and Moscow following reciprocal visits by Russia’s Patrushev and Iran’s Salehi to shed more light on the plan. A positive point with Russia’s plan is that it is an initiative for resumption of talks. Iranian officials have welcomed a return to the negotiating table. The second strength of the plan is its independent nature as opposed to when Russia just followed suit with 5+1. Iran hails an independent role for Russia because it sees a useful role for independent initiatives presented by Russia and China. Iran believed the same about role of Brazil and Turkey.

There are, however, concerns about the plan. Firstly, it is similar to a past modality plan which failed. Some elites also fear that it might have been influenced by Moscow’s relations with Washington or would be so in the course of its progress. Iran will take these concerns in mind when assessing the Russian plan, but it generally hails it. Tehran will raise those concerns in talks with the Russian side and will specifically point out that 5+1’s approach has not been legal, but a politically motivated one.

Q: Do you believe that Russia is playing an “independent role” even when considering its large-scale dealings with the United States and taking into account the fact that the plan was first offered to Washington?

A: Let’s not forget that such dealings are relative and nobody has any doubt that Russia has played a major modifying role in Iran’s nuclear case. Moscow’s cooperation with Iran on Bushehr nuclear power plant and the recent step by step plan all prove that Moscow is willing to play an independent part. Russia is, no doubt, facing limitations when trying to play that role. The plan was first presented to the United States because it is the kingpin of 5+1. Other members of the group look to Washington and attune their policies to those of the United States. Therefore, Moscow believed that the main party to Iran’s nuclear case should be addressed first. As for delayed presentation to Iran, I believe that it had not been a well-built plan at that time and Russians had just prepared general outlines of the initiative. Moscow needed some time to hammer out the final plan and make it more comprehensible.

Q: Regardless of how 5+1 treats Russia’s plan, how possible do you think its implementation will be given the emphasis that both the United States and Iran put on their respective positions?

A: We must hope that it would clear the way for further talks. On the other hand, we could hope that wrong policies implemented by the United States and its allies in Iraq, Afghanistan and some other Middle Eastern countries would have knocked some sense into them. If that happened, 5+1 would treat Iran’s rightful position with more realism and this approach would be useful for the resumption of negotiations.

Q: You already said that Russia’s look to the east policy was another aspect of new diplomatic activities launched by Tehran and Moscow. Don’t you think that the new trend has something to do with the ongoing developments in the Middle East (Arab uprisings), especially the situation in Syria? In other words, since the west has shown disregard for Russia’s interests in recent developments, don’t you think that Russia and Tehran are attempting to get coordinated in order to handle the Middle East developments?

A: I believe that both Russia and Iran are interested in cooperation over regional issues, but both of them are acting with some delay. During last year’s visit to Russia, we proposed that the two countries should work more closely on the issues in Middle East. Russians, unfortunately, reacted belatedly, though that cooperation could have been very determining because there were more grounds for it at that time. There is, however, no doubt that both countries share the same concerns on the Middle East issues. This can be, therefore, a good topic of discussion in the forthcoming talks between the two sides.

Thank you for your time, Dr. Sanaei.

Source: Iran and Eurasia Research Center (IRAS)
Translated By: Iran Review

More By Mehdi Sanaei:

*Obstacles & Motives for China & Russia to Unify against Iran:

*Russia’s Sanctions against Iran:

*Iran-Russia Relations and Existing Circumstances:

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