West's "Realism Deficit" in Nuclear Talks

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Kaveh L. Afrasiabi

Dr. Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran's foreign minister and chief nuclear negotiator, has stated that "with realism" on the part of the other side, the current nuclear talks can yield results ahead of the July 1st 2015 deadline. Although the content of on-going negotiations remain confidential, still it is possible to draw tentative conclusions about the "deficit of realism" particularly on the part of U.S. and its Western allies that are part of the "5+1" nations, i.e., France, England, and Germany. 

Deficit of realism is best defined as the result of unrealistic expectations and demands that are not in the realm of possible and, yet, these Western powers (mainly U.S.) insist on them as a precondition for reaching a final agreement. Case in point, the demand for access to Iran's military sites is inherently counterproductive and rooted in the "Iraq syndrome," recalling how the pre-invasion Iraq was subjected to a special inspection regime that was in essence limitless and extended to the presidential palaces and military sites, with disastrous results for Iraq's sovereignty, in light of the slew of post-invasion information that the Western inspectors often acted as spies to gather crucial intel for the invading army. 

Clearly, the lesson from the Iraq experience is too fresh as well as formative for Iran to allow itself to be subjected to a systematic intrusion under the guise of nuclear transparency. The sooner the West gives up on this self-deluding fiasco of unrealistic expectations, the better, otherwise the prospect of nuclear talks will inevitably turn gloomy. In turn, this requires a fine balancing act between respect for Iran's sovereignty and military secrets on the one hand, and satisfying the stated non-proliferation concerns on the other. Unfortunately, the U.S. increasingly behaves as a spoiled party with evolving, or rather escalating, demands, afflicted with the "Iraq syndrome." Yet, the clue to the success of nuclear talks is that the Western powers come to the realization that today's Iran is vastly different from the regime of Saddam Hussain and has a democratic system that requires accountability and national control of the country's important and sensitive matters. 

Unfortunately, intoxicated by the formidable sanctions regime that Washington has orchestrated against Iran, the U.S. policy-makers are seemingly blind to their own "deficit of realism" that has led them astray to the misperception that perhaps somehow Iran can be reduced to the Iraq model and thus overexploited for the similar hegemonic intentions displayed in the Iraq crisis. The continuation of this unhealthy cognitive framework is definitely harmful to the nuclear talks and its prospects, endangering the process instead and raising the unwanted prospect of a failure precious few weeks from now. 

In order to jolt the unrealistic Western negotiators suffice to say that if the talks fail Iran will resume its nuclear activities without care or concern about the Western accusations or blame games, including by enriching uranium at 20 percent or even higher, adding to the stockpile of enriched uranium, finish the Arak reactor without any modifications, and limiting the outside inspections to a bare minimum, i.e., no surveillance cameras or snap inspections, etc. In a worst case scenario, in reaction to the unjust sanctions and excess Western demands, Iran might even discontinue its cooperation with the IAEA and expel the inspectors, until such time as the West truly addresses its faulty expectation levels by compensating for its deficit of realism. 

Hypothetically, the latter is still possible and the talks can avoid a deadlock or, worse, complete breakdown if the U.S. and the other Western powers make the necessary adjustments that are essential for a "win-win" comprehensive agreement. One key adjustment would be to correct the misperception that the net result of negotiations can be a one-sided win for the West dictating all the terms, such as the timing and sequence of lifting of sanctions, etc. No final nuclear agreement that revolves around the Western-centric interests can possibly pass the muster of legitimacy in Iran and, in a word, would be an ultimately futile endeavor.

With respect to the present stalemate over the issue of inspections and access to non-nuclear sites, one of the existing problems is that it involves the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency), which is in the dark about the content of negotiations, per the recent admission of IAEA chief, Yukiya Amano. Yet, somehow IAEA has been turned into a key interlocutor, invested with the heavy responsibility of confirming Iran's implementation of its obligations, which per the Lausanne agreement includes resolving the outstanding issues pertaining to "the past and present," i.e., a code word for what the agency has termed as PMD (Possible Military Dimension). Various Western officials have insisted that the PMD be included in the final agreement, yet it is unclear if this is a smart move? After all, the PMD is tantamount to opening the Pandora's Box of escalating demands, which are bound to be rejected by Iran for the obvious reasons, thus predisposing the negotiations toward failure.

*Kaveh Afrasiabi, Ph.D, is a former political science professor at Tehran University and 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.

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

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