West Has Indirectly Recognized Iran's Right to Enrich Uranium

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Interview with Hassan Beheshtipour
By: Mosallas Weekly

Hassan Beheshtipour, a political commentator and expert on Iran's nuclear issue, has taken part in a detailed interview with Mosallas (Triangle) weekly, over the recent round of negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 group of world powers in the Kazakh city of Almaty. He believes that the main reason that negotiations have failed to bear fruit so far is that, as put by Iran's top negotiator Saeed Jalili, confidence building should not lead to deprivation (of Iran from its right to enrich uranium). This means that the West should not expect Iran to give up its right to enrich uranium. He believes that if Iran accepted to suspend 20-percent enrichment of uranium for a short period of six months, it would be a good test to see whether the West will continue with the policy it followed seven years ago, or it has learned from the past and has based its new policy on more cooperation with Iran. On the other hand, he says, it is still possible that if Iran accepts to take a confidence building measure under the present circumstances, the West may demand more from Iran. Beheshtipour maintains that in the existing conditions, the first confidence building measure to be taken by the West is to recognize Iran's right to enrich uranium after which the Western states can move to announce a schedule for the revocation of all anti-Iran sanctions as well as the best way to do it. In fact, the P5+1 group should specify what steps it wants to take so that Iran would be able to better adapt its reaction to the West’s demands.

Q: What is your opinion about the latest round of nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 group in the Kazakh city of Almaty?

A: Those negotiations proved that both parties are still firmly sticking to their past positions and want to have their own way. However, they also devoted time to exploring common views as both parties delved into more details of the issue during their latest round of talks. In fact, as put by Mr. Jalili, if the West recognized the issue of uranium enrichment in Iran, it would be able to cut the Gordian knot of the negotiations. As long as the West refrains from recognizing this inalienable right of Iran, the Gordian knot will remain uncut. On the other hand, another problem is extreme distrust on each side of the table toward the other side. The main reason why Iran opposed to suspend 20-percent uranium enrichment for six months was because Tehran is not sure whether this step will be a prelude to more steps or not. Iran also wonders if it accepted to take the confidence building step, would the other side reach a final roundup on the nuclear issue, or will it decide to put more demands before Iran.

Q: What it is that each side is currently expecting from the other side?

A: At present, Iran has put forth two clear-cut and basic demands. Firstly, Tehran wants its right to enrich uranium be recognized with the second demand being revocation of all sanctions against the Islamic Republic. On the opposite, the West is calling for more intensive inspections and controls over Iran's nuclear facilities by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). They also want the IAEA supervision to be enforced on the basis of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and should continue as long as they become sure that Iran has no plan to move toward building a nuclear bomb. In the meantime, Iran's strategy is based on the fact that it has never wanted and will never want to have a nuclear bomb. Now the main issue, which was also mentioned by Saeed Jalili, is that confidence building should not amount to deprivation of Iran of its rights. That is, the West should not try to deprive Iran of its right to enrich uranium and take this as a confidence building measure. At any rate, Iran's main red line is uranium enrichment in general, not enriching uranium to 20 percent level because Iran started enriching uranium to 20 percent level only when it needed nuclear fuel and the Western sides did not give it to Tehran. Therefore, Iran can appear resilient before the West and suspend 20-percent enrichment for a matter of six months, provided that Iran can make sure that after those six months, the West will not come up with more demands. For example, they may ask for the shutdown of Fordow nuclear site today, but demand the suspension of activities at Natanz or Arak nuclear facilities, tomorrow. Therefore, it is not clear where West’s demands are going to end and also there has been no talk about revocation of sanctions which have been imposed against Iran. If they clarified their next moves and, for example, announced that at a certain date they will embark on total abrogation of anti-Iran sanctions, the issue would have been resolved very quickly and simply. The West, however, is adding to the complexity of Iran's nuclear case because they clarify the first move, but say nothing about the ensuing moves. Therefore, Iran does not know if it accepted the West’s deal, would the Western sides abide by their commitments or not.

Q: Do you mean that under these conditions, Iran should not accept their proposals?

A: In my opinion, despite all the distrust, it would have been advisable for Iran if Tehran gave the West another chance by accepting to suspend 20-percent enrichment for a period of six months as a test of fidelity of the Western countries. In that case, people of the world would have realized whether the West is bent on going on with the same policies it followed seven years ago, or it has learned from the past and has based its new policy on more cooperation with Iran.

At present, Iran is distrustful of the West and argues that confidence building should not amount to deprivation of Iran of its rights. In fact, this is the main Gordian knot of the nuclear issue. If the West is actually willing to reach a final conclusion through negotiations, it can firstly, recognize Iran's right to enrich uranium in full and, secondly, come up with a schedule to show when anti-Iran sanctions will be revoked. These two measures will be major problem-solvers and under the existing conditions, such a measure will ensure the West that Iran will do necessary cooperation to build confidence and prove that there is no diversion in its nuclear energy program toward military purposes.

Q: What do you think was the most important and the most prominent reason for lack of progress in negotiations in this stage?

A: In the most pessimistic case, one may say that the United States does not want to reach an agreement with Iran and is willing for the sanctions to continue. In the meantime, it would be erroneous to assume that further intensification of sanctions will finally bring Iran to its knees and will cause the Islamic Republic to give in to the West’s demand for the complete cessation of the uranium enrichment. Of course, this is a worst-case scenario and the United States is the main party to blame for this situation because it does not want the negotiations to reach a conclusive result. In an optimistic approach, however, both sides are held responsible for the status quo. In this state, one may assert that the United States seeks to reach a result which would be optimal for Washington. They want Iran to give up uranium enrichment according to conditions which have been set by them. Therefore, in the first stage, they noted that Iran should at least suspend 20-percent enrichment for a period of six months. On the other hand, Iran has no problem with suspending 20-percent enrichment, but wants to make sure about the next steps. Tehran wants to ascertain when its right to enrich uranium will be recognized and sanctions will be removed.

Q: What will happen if Iran accepted to suspend 20-percent enrichment for six months and in what direction will the negotiations move after that?

A: This confidence building step by Iran will most probably change the whole atmosphere and push both sides toward more cooperation. At present, the West’s main strategy is pressure and negotiation, or sanctions and negotiations. It does not pursue cooperation and negotiations. Under these conditions, if Iran takes one step to build confidence with the West, the other side will probably move to cooperate more with Iran and somehow reduce the existing pressures on Tehran. The Iranian side, however, assumes that its cooperation will produce the opposite result and will make the other side more demanding. This suspicion is the result of the track records of the United States and its allies in dealing with Iran's two-year voluntary suspension of its nuclear activities between 2003 and 2005.

Q: One of the issues which the West claims to have caused the recent negotiations [in Almaty] to move toward uncertainty was Iran's act of proposing a new package of proposals instead of giving an answer to the previous package that the P5+1 had offered Iran. Why, in your opinion, Iran has taken such a step?

A: This move by Iran has been a tactic. As long as Iran has its own way and the Western countries have theirs, negotiations will get nowhere and will go about in a vicious circle. Iran had to offer a constructive solution in order to pave the way for the improvement in the process of negotiations. If Iran wanted to blame the West for everything, it would be, in fact, an effort to ignore the main problem. Therefore, Iran should have come up with a new initiative during Almaty 2 talks by working more on the result of Almaty 1 negotiations in order to prepare that initiative. By taking this step, Iran actually went back to where it was during Moscow negotiations. At the same time, although Mr. Jalili described Almaty 1 negotiations as a step forward, some analysts believed that Iran's return to the Moscow package was, in fact, a step backward. They noted that if negotiations in Moscow had been successful, there would have been no need to continue with the negotiations in Almaty.

Q: What are the main steps that the P5+1 group can take in this stage?

A: The opposite side [to Iran] should recognize Iran's right to enrich uranium as a first step and then discuss other issues. Such issues as the intensity, volume and quality of the IAEA inspections are negotiable. However, the P5+1 has not done this because some of its member states are influenced by the Israeli regime and Israel, in turn, is seriously trying to prevent negotiations from reaching a conclusive result.

Q: Although some Western politicians were not very optimistic about the recent round of negotiations, they have also avoided calling them a failure. Why, do you think, they have chosen to do this?

A: Some member states of the P5+1 group believe that the announcement of the failure of the negotiations would mean that such talks will get nowhere and the military option is the only choice to be taken. This issue is the main goal which some extremist circles in Israel as well as radical pro-Israeli lobbies in the United States are pursuing. At the same time, the United States is by no means ready to enter into another war because it is already stuck in two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and is entangled in serious tensions with North Korea. At any rate, it is a reality that radical Israeli groups as well as pro-Israeli lobbies in the US Congress are pursuing this goal. The US administration, however, does not buy this logic and is willing to resolve Iran's nuclear issue through continuation of sanctions as well as negotiations. Therefore, Washington is by no means willing to allow radical Israeli groups to get it involved in another conflict.

Q: A major point of dispute between Iran and the P5+1 group has been Iran's nuclear activities at Fordow facility. Of course, the site has been under regular inspections of the IAEA and the Agency’s inspectors have never found any ambiguous activity there. Therefore, why the West calls for the Fordow facility to be shut down?

A: To be fair, we must admit that the West has modified its past position on Fordow. That is, they previously insisted that Fordow facility should be closed down without giving any reason why it should be shut down. Fordow was built in 2009 and is continuing its totally legal activities under the oversight of the IAEA. So far, the Agency has not been able to even find a single shred of evidence to prove that any activity contradicting the NPT has been carried out at Fordow. Therefore, the P5+1’s request from Iran to close down Fordow was based on no logic and, Iran, for the same reason, never accepted that request. At present, they have modified their demand by reducing it from complete shutdown of Fordow to suspension of its activities. The suspension means that, firstly, they have considered a six-month period for the suspension. Secondly, instead of insisting on the whole facility to be shut down, they have announced that only 20-percent enrichment should stop. This means that they have indirectly accepted 5-percent enrichment by Iran whether it is carried out at Fordow or at Natanz. Also, it seems that this modification in the West’s position has been the main reason why Iran welcomed the recent round of negotiations in Almaty.

Q: In view of the above facts, why Iran did not give a positive answer to the P5+1’s proposals during Almaty 2 talks?

A: There are a few reasons. Firstly, Iran does not know what the next steps would be and, secondly, it is not aware of the time that sanctions would be totally revoked. Iran expected that the West would lift all sanctions it has imposed against Tehran outside the context of the United Nations Security Council resolutions in return for the suspension of 20-percent enrichment by Iran. The West, however, did not accept the offer and only sufficed to removing the ban on the trade of precious metals and petrochemicals by Iran which was apparently less than attractive for the Islamic Republic.

Q: Is it possible that Almaty 2 talks would be followed by a long interregnum which already happened following negotiations in Moscow? As you know, the time and venue of the next round of negotiations has not been specified yet.

A: This is most unlikely to happen because the representatives of the P5+1 have gone back to consult with their respective governments and, unlike negotiations in Moscow, none of them has described Almaty 2 talks as failure. The P5+1 have noted that the negotiations have not hit a deadlock, though they have not reached the desired result too. By doing this, they have tried to make others believe that they seek to continue the diplomatic effort and hope that the next round of negotiations would bear fruit. After the P5+1 representatives consult with their governments, their chief negotiator, Catherine Ashton, will contact Mr. Jalili. Probably, after that, [the deputies of top negotiators of Iran and the P5+1] Ms. [Helga] Schmid and Mr. [Ali] Baqeri will have a meeting. It should be also noted that under the current conditions, a long gap in negotiations would be neither beneficial to Iran, nor to the West. Therefore, it is quite imaginable that we will see more activities in this regard during the current or the next month.

Q: Will the forthcoming presidential polls in Iran have any effect on the timing of future negotiations between Iran and the P5+1?

A: The president in Iran can speed up the course of the nuclear negotiations by facilitating the executive issues related to the negotiations. He can also adopt correct policies in order to enforce the decisions which are taken by the Leader of the Islamic Revolution [Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei]. Of course, the president is not the top decision-maker when it comes to the nuclear issue. Everybody knows that this issue is in the hands of the Supreme National Security Council and any decision regarding it should be taken by the leader of the Islamic Revolution. Therefore, the presidential election, per se, cannot be very influential on this issue. Of course, if a president is elected who would appear more active in this area and be able to facilitate the diplomatic approach to the nuclear issue with enough power, it would certainly influence various aspects of the nuclear issue. There is a pessimistic view which believes that the Western countries did not really want Almaty 2 talks to reach a decisive result because they are waiting to see who becomes president in Iran and then make their decision accordingly. Some even say that if Almaty 2 talks were actually successful, it would have had a positive impact on the Iranian people and encouraged them to take part more enthusiastically in the presidential polls. Therefore, the West did not want this to happen. I believe that this analysis is basically wrong because when they want to elect a president or make a decision about whether to take part in the elections or not, the Iranian people do not make it conditional on the outcome of Almaty or any other negotiations because they make such decisions on the basis of totally different criteria.

Q: The Russian representative has also reflected on Iran’s proposed package, noting that the new package has not only failed to provide an answer to the P5+1’s proposals, but has also added to the existing ambiguities. Why the Russians have opposed Iran's proposed package?

A: The position taken by Sergey Riyabkov, the Russian deputy foreign minister who also represented his country in talks with Iran, was not against the Islamic Republic, but he simply opposed Iran’s latest move. He maintained that instead of answering the proposals offered by the other side, Iran has put a series of new proposals on the table. This method is usually applied in diplomatic endeavors in order to put the opposite side in a passive position, so that, they would have to go to their governments for consultations to see how to deal with any new proposal. Therefore, the Russian representative was against Iran’s method, not its proposals because there was no problem with those proposals. Of course, Iran says that it has answered the P5+1’s questions during expert-level negotiations in Turkey on March 18, 2013, although the Western countries have not apparently found Iran’s answers adequate, or that they have not understood Iran’s answers.

Q: What scenarios do you foresee for the continuation of negotiations in the future?

A: As for the future course of the negotiations, two scenarios are possible. Firstly, the Israeli lobby and other radical groups inside the United States and in Europe will press for more sanctions against Iran. It has been already proven that this policy is just a mistake. Another scenario is for them to reach the conclusion that they can get along with five proposals Iran has offered the P5+1 and give logical answers to them. One of the most important issues here is that the West has to first recognize Iran’s right to enrich uranium, or at least, announce what Iran should do to make them recognize its right to enrichment. In the next step, they should specify what measures should be taken at what time in order for anti-Iran sanctions to be removed. The West is possible to put these two issues on its agenda for the next round of talks in which case the nuclear negotiations with Iran will turn into a win-win game. To reach a final result, the two sides should also try to bring their viewpoints closer together.

*A researcher, documentary producer, and expert on nuclear issues, Hassan Beheshtipour was born on June 22, 1961 in Tehran. He received his BA in Trade Economics from Tehran University. His research topics span from US and Russian foreign policy to the Ukrainian Orange Revolution.

Key Words: Iran, Right to Enrich Uranium, Almaty Negotiations, Anti-Iran Sanctions, IAEA, Confidence Building, P5+1, Fordow Facility, Presidential Polls, Beheshtipour

Source: Mosallas (Triangle) Weekly
Translated By: Iran Review.Org

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