West Should Change Tone and Approach to Iran

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Interview with Mohammad Farhad Koleini
Senior Expert of Strategic Issues

Following a hiatus of several months, the new round of negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 group of world powers over Iran's nuclear energy program was held in the Swiss city of Geneva on Tuesday and Wednesday, October 15-16, 2013.  Both parties announced that a generally positive atmosphere had governed the negotiations and the next round of talks was scheduled to be held about three weeks later. Can these negotiations be considered a way out of the current standoff between the two sides and a prelude to a final agreement? This question has been put forth in the following interview with Mohammad Farhad Koleini, a senior expert of strategic issues. The full text of the interview follows:

Q: What is your viewpoint about the recent two-day talks between Iran and the P5+1 group in Geneva? What issues make these negotiations different from previous rounds of nuclear talks?

A: It seems that the new round of negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 group [including the US, the UK, France, Russia, and China plus Germany] over Iran's nuclear energy program has been held under new conditions and there are hopes that it would offer a new opportunity to solve the nuclear issue. The package of proposals offered by Iran during this round of talks has been generally welcomed by the Western sides. Following the end of negotiations, [Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for Legal and International Affairs] Mr. [Abbas] Araqchi, who was also Iran's chief nuclear negotiator in talks with the P5+1, described the overall atmosphere of the recent nuclear talks in Geneva as positive. On the other hand, the spokesman for the European Union [Michael Mann] described Iran's proposed plan as “very helpful.”

In addition, the delegations representing Iran and the member states of the P5+1 group issued a joint statement, for the first time. According to the joint statement, the two negotiating sides have reached an agreement, based on which, sanction and nuclear experts from both Iran, and the P5+1 member states will meet before the next official talks between the two sides. The experts are expected to discuss points of difference while hashing out the details of practical steps which should be taken by the two negotiating parties. Such positions clearly indicate that a new development has taken place in negotiations and we can hope to see a new period of progress in bilateral interactions. Of course, expectations about Iran's negotiations with the P5+1 should not be too high and nobody should expect that all the existing problems can be solved overnight. During the past decade, Iran's nuclear energy program has turned into one of the most complicated cases at international level. As a result, the involved parties can only table a limited number of issues over a short period of time to reach an agreement on them.

Q: But prolongation of negotiations can backfire because it may defeat the main purpose of the nuclear talks. Don’t you think that a deadline should be set for the termination of the negotiations?

A: Yes. This is true. At present, both sides have shown their determination to hold serious negotiations and take objective and tangible steps [toward an agreement]. The ball is now in the West’s court which can play fair through the reaction that it would show to Iran's proposed plan. As I said before, expert delegations from both sides are supposed to hold a meeting in a few weeks in order to find ways for further movement ahead. I hope the negotiations will keep moving ahead in a step by step manner on the basis of Iran's package of new proposals. Despite the above facts, one of the main concerns on Iran's side has been, and still is, setting a time limit for the negotiations. Iran is not willing to take part in the negotiations for the sake of negotiations. Officials in Tehran believe that negotiations should go ahead in accordance with a clearly specified timetable and through a core approach to achieving a common understanding of the nuclear issue by pursuing a win-win policy. In addition, as to the manner in which the negotiations should go ahead, the Iranian side believes that the beginning and the end of negotiations should be quite clear. If they talk about the necessity for Iran to take the first step, it should be also specified when the last step is going to be taken. Moreover, tangible progress should be seen in negotiations because interaction in an environment filled with ambiguity will not help the progress of the nuclear talks in any way.

Q: One of the main issues which has turned into a concern for Iranian delegates as well as the Iranian people and officials, is the issue of international sanctions imposed against Iran. To what extent, do you think, the ongoing negotiations will be able to help with the removal or at least reduction of sanctions against Iran?

A: Although the text of Iran's proposal and the contents of the negotiations have not been published and have been kept confidential, it appears that the issue of sanctions has been one of the main issues which have been brought up in the negotiations. According to the available evidence, it seems that if the negotiations actually progress, the Western side is ready to consider reduction of sanctions imposed against Iran. Also, it appears that a first step in alleviating anti-Iran sanctions, if there is real progress in the negotiations, would be to unfreeze part of Iranian assets that are currently frozen at foreign bank accounts. The Bloomberg news service has published this information, which is of special importance because the Bloomberg is used as a reference by creditable international money and capital markets.

Q: You noted that Iran has already taken the first step and the ball is now in the West’s court. What measures, do you think, would be appropriate for the Western sides to take now?

A: A change in the West’s strategic approach to Iran is, perhaps, one of the most important developments which should come about. [The former British foreign secretary] Jack Straw has taken part in an interview with the British media noting that the West has never recognized Iran's status and has never treated the Islamic Republic and its regional power with the same degree of respect that it deserves. A change in this attitude would be an important step that the West should take. This means that the Western states should use a language of respect when talking to the Iranian people and their representatives. In other words, a change in the West’s tone with the Islamic Republic of Iran is quite necessary and it seems that such a change has taken place to some extent during the latest round of negotiations between the two sides. In view of the meetings held by the Iranian delegation with the foreign ministers of Germany, Britain, and the United States, one may assume that the West is reviewing its tone and literature toward Iran.

Another issue worthy of mention here is a change in the general atmosphere of the negotiations. The general atmosphere of the negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 group should change from a challenging one to a different atmosphere based on the common interests [of the two sides] and in line with a win-win policy. A requisite for that change is for the West to stop considering Iran's nuclear energy program as a threat. In other words, instead of its currently confrontational approach, the West should take an interactional approach to Iran.

Q: What issues may tarnish the positive outlook of negotiations?

A: It is quite evident that the sole party which is greatly angry with the Geneva meeting is Israel. Positions adopted on Iran-P5+1 talks by the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli Minister for Strategic Affairs Yuval Steinitz clearly prove that the Israeli elements are doing their utmost to provoke the international public opinion against Iran. Therefore, they have started their past threats about launching a military strike against the Islamic Republic. They have also urged the Western states not to change their policy toward Iran. On the contrary, Iran has always insisted that the P5+1 should not engage in talks with Iran on the basis of the negotiation agenda prepared for it by Tel Aviv.

Key Words: Geneva Talks, West, Tone and Approach, Iran, International Sanctions, P5+1, Outlook of Negotiations, Koleini

Source: Iranian Diplomacy (IRD)
Translated By: Iran Review.Org

More By Mohammad Farhad Koleini:

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*Photo Credit: JameJam Online

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