The Case for Extending the Nuclear Talks

Friday, October 31, 2014

Kaveh L. Afrasiabi

The approaching nuclear deadline and the absence of a deal so far have triggered a growing interest in the alternative of extending the timeline and inking a new temporary agreement. The big question is, of course, if this is in Iran’s interest and whether or not the country would be better off without it?

Unfortunately, some Iranian experts have rushed to premature conclusions, by arguing strongly against the option of extending the talks, a chief argument being that it does not bode well for Iran’s civilian nuclear program, which has been put in a state of limbo to some extent, in light of the Geneva agreement’s provisions regarding the heavy water reactor in Arak, etc. 

Certainly, there are important technical considerations that come into play with respect to a new interim agreement. Iran also seeks a complete removal of the international sanctions and is unsatisfied with token relief, as has been the case this past year under the Geneva “Joint Plan of Action.” Therefore, Iran’s hesitations toward another interim agreement are perfectly understandable. But, the cons of failed talks, including the potential for new sanctions, must be realistically weighed and compared with the pros of agreeing to a new temporary agreement. The latter can be analyzed by assessing the benefits of the initial agreement – that has been defended by the Dr. Rouhani’s administration for breaking the ice in Iran-West relations, improving Iran’s international image, helping the economy, and enhancing the “Iran pivot” in terms of influencing the regional dynamics. Maintaining and safeguarding these gains is naturally in Iran’s interest and, again, much depends on the details of a new agreement that, hypothetically speaking, could build on the initial agreement’s gains and provide Iran with additional benefits, particularly with respect to the sanctions regime, given the world community’s growing weariness of it.

Henceforth, a new temporary agreement of six months to one year or even longer has the potential to cause further erosions in the robust sanctions and thus weaken the resolve of Western nations to continue with the unhealthy status quo that is detrimental to their own interests, e.g., a spike in oil prices is viewed by oil experts as likely if the talks collapse. In other words, time is not on the side of Iran sanctions and further confidence-building afforded by a new interim agreement can prove beneficial for Iran’s trade and non-trade relations with the rest of the world. 

Not only that, the growing cooperation between Iran and the IAEA observed recently can continue unimpeded by any setbacks caused by the termination of nuclear talks. As a result, Iran’s hands in the negotiation process would be strengthened and the countries seeking to isolate Iran and to punish it for its nuclear program would have a more difficult time pursuing their objectives. In terms of Iran’s ‘soft power’, a new interim agreement would be a plus, aiding Iran’s nuclear diplomacy.

Needless to say, a balanced analysis of the various pros and cons of any new agreement would have to await the results of the current negotiations and, naturally, there are limits to how far one can speculate about the likely outcome and ramifications and side-effects of any future deal. Nonetheless, it is fairly obvious that compared to the alternative of failed talks, the option of extending them has certain attractiveness from the prism of Iran’s national interests, that should be studied carefully instead of dismissed prematurely by simplistic arguments that fail to properly assess the merits of a potential “interim II.”

*Kaveh Afrasiabi, PhD, is the author of several books on Iran’s foreign policy. His writings have appeared on several online and print publications, including UN Chronicle, New York Times, Der Tagesspiegel, Middle East Journal, Harvard International Review, and Brown's Journal of World Affairs, Guardian, Russia Today, Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, Boston Globe, Mediterranean Affairs, Nation, Telos, Der Tageszeit, Hamdard Islamicus, Iranian Journal of International Affairs, Global Dialogue.

Key Words: Nuclear Talks, Extension, Iran’s Civilian Nuclear Program, Joint Plan of Action, Sanctions, Oil Prices, IAEA, Interim II, Afrasiabi

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*Photo Credit: Fars News Agency