Shift in West's Negotiating Tactics Boosts Prospects for Iran Breakthrough

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Trita Parsi

Much of the optimism over this week's renewed nuclear negotiations with Iran has centered on the signals of flexibility and willingness to compromise being sent by Iran's President Hassan Rouhani, but it may be a little-noticed although critical shift in the West's approach that has raised prospects for a diplomatic breakthrough: For the first time, the P5+1 group (the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany) has agreed to discuss the endgame of nuclear diplomacy when it meets with Iran's delegation for two days of talks in Geneva starting Tuesday.

The failed negotiation efforts over the past decade have focused on immediate, incremental confidence-building measures but have avoided discussing — much less defining — an end state on which the parties could agree. Seeking progress along a road with no clear destination suited the Western powers, but it left the Iranian side deeply suspicious of the intent of their interlocutors.

Leaving the endgame undefined was preferable to the Western powers for several reasons.

First, Western negotiators believed that defining an end state would be tantamount to giving the Iranians a major concession at the outset of the negotiations. Instead, they preferred to let the journey define the destination — the more concessions that Iran could be persuaded to give, ran the logic, the more favorable the outcome for which the West could hold out.

Second, Western negotiators wanted to keep as a bargaining chip to be introduced at the conclusion of negotiations any acceptance of an end state that included limited uranium enrichment on Iranian soil. Accepting up front the principle that Iran calls its right to enrich was viewed as a concession offered without reciprocity. "How do you want to know before starting the negotiations what the end result of the negotiations will be?" a senior E.U. negotiator complained in 2010.

Third and most important, there's no agreement within the P5+1 on the terms of an acceptable diplomatic solution. France, for example, strongly rejects any uranium enrichment on Iranian soil; Russia and China uphold Tehran's right to enrichment for civilian purposes once it has met all its obligations under the Non-Proliferation Treaty. There's no agreement on enrichment even among the European members of the P5+1, with France and Germany far apart on the issue. And while George W. Bush's administration had insisted on zero enrichment, Barack Obama's administration has sent mixed signals and avoided publicly defining its position on the issue. Israel, which is not part of the talks, has insisted that Iran not be permitted to maintain any uranium-enrichment capacity, and its position carries strong support on Capitol Hill.

Clarifying the endgame at the outset of the talks would necessitate tough negotiations within the P5+1, which could jeopardize the crucial unity that the Security Council countries need to maintain vis-a-vis Iran. And it could also provoke a domestic political backlash.

*Trita Parsi is the author of "A Single Roll of the Dice -- Obama’s Diplomacy with Iran" (Yale University Press, 2012) and president of the National Iranian American Council.

Source: Aljazeera America

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*These views represent those of the author and are not necessarily Iran Review's viewpoints.

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