What Is the Guarantee for Implementing the “Step-by-Step” Approach?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Interview with Siamak Baqeri
Expert on International Affairs

The new round of nuclear talks between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the P5+1 group of world powers will be held in Baghdad tomorrow, 23 May 2012. These negotiations are held at a time when the apparently positive approach of Western powers towards Iran in the wake of the Istanbul meeting in April has seen a volte-face and given way to hostile statements typically expressed in the previous months. The international environment has also undergone a number of changes which will undoubtedly influence the atmosphere of negotiation to a great extent. The holding of French presidential elections, the return of Vladimir Putin to Kremlin, the Israeli regime’s new moves, and the P5+1’s failure to agree upon a new comprehensive modality are but a few examples of these developments. To examine the issue, we have held a discussion with Siamak Baqeri, an expert in international affairs.

Borhan News Site (Borhan): Over the past weeks, the dominant opinion was that following the constructive nuclear negotiations in Istanbul, the P5+1 group, particularly the United State, have been demanding the continuation of talks at any price and favouring negotiation for the sake of negotiation, but over the past days we have witnessed their assumption of aggressive tough stances against Iran, which have manifested themselves, for instance, in the hostile statements made by the European Union and the White House. In fact, it seems that circumstances have been transformed since the Istanbul nuclear talks. With this in mind, can one claim that the P5+1 approach towards the Iranian nuclear programme has experienced an U-turn?

Baqeri: As you pointed out, ever since the Istanbul meeting on 14 April, the P5+1 group of Western powers have assumed a number of positions that in fact represent a continuation of the previous policies of pressure and threat. In this respect, we have seen some individual and collective postures adopted by the European Union and the United States against the Islamic Republic. In addition to these moves, of course, some American officials have made statements claiming that the West is after cooperating with Iran and trying to find ways acceptable to both sides.

Another point which merits attention here is the outstanding role of the Zionist regime in the process, which appears to be different from its past measures. It should be noted, in this respect, that Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief, made a trip to Tel Aviv to discuss the Iran-P5+1 meeting in Baghdad with the Israeli leaders.

In fact, as it can be inferred from the look of it, the Western side has apparently adopted a different approach towards Iran following certain overtures by Tel Aviv and the attitudes of P5+1 members have changed compared to the time before the Istanbul nuclear talks. In my opinion, their behaviour can be analyzed in several major terms:

Formerly, the Western alliance opposing the Islamic Republic had a strategy called the “double-track strategy” on its agenda, according to which they pursued the policy of pressure and negotiation at the same time in all nuclear talks, not least in nuclear meetings since 2005 (1384 in Persian calendar), that is, in the two meetings in Geneva as well as the two previous gatherings in Istanbul. Also, one can argue that the Western behaviour is marked by a kind of paradox in decision-making. In point of fact, it seems that on the one hand the West has faced a number of failures and frustrations while arriving at a real understanding of Iran’s nuclear capability, and thus has come to the conclusion that it has to grant some concessions to the Islamic Republic. On the other, one should take into consideration the point that Zionist lobbies have been applying pressure on the American and European political and decision-making circles over Iran’s nuclear activities. This is mainly why at times Western powers put pressure upon us and sometimes they take steps towards cooperation on the nuclear issue and settlement of the relevant problems.

The other paradox concerns the West’s troubles in political and economic areas, including particularly the issue of elections in some European countries as well as in the United States. On the one hand, these challenges force them to offer concessions to the Islamic Republic and buy time, so that they can see through the current adverse circumstances, resolve their economic crises and address their political and electoral concerns duly. On the other, they fear that by making such concessions they end up enhancing Iran’s power. In fact, they have been caught up in this dilemma, which makes them behave paradoxically and pull in opposite directions.

Borhan: Given that the P5+1 members have differences over the measures that should be taken in the nuclear talks and, in other words, there appears to be a deep rift among them, what is your assessment of the modality the group is expected to propose in the upcoming round of negotiations?

Baqeri: I think that prior to the issue of modality proposed by the P5+1 group, the Iranian government had already reached a partial agreement with Russia on the generalities of the issue. Thus, it seems that Russian views have a greater part in the modality. However, the extent to which the West will be able to propose a modality consistent with the conditions of both sides is a moot question, particularly given that the Islamic Republic has gone through painful experiences for this matter in the past.

In this respect, one can point to the modality Iran agreed upon with International Atomic Energy Agency, according to which Tehran answered and clarified all the remaining questions about its nuclear activities, but at once the Americans brought up the issue of alleged studies, which caused the whole modality to fail and be dismantled.

At any event, I think the West has inevitably accepted some parts of Iran’s nuclear activities, that is, enriching uranium up to 5 percent, but there is not yet an ultimate agreement on the enrichment grade. All in all, it seems that the general framework of the modality has been accepted while the initiative also faces challenges and difficulties which will be clearly addressed during the Baghdad negotiations on 23 May.

Borhan: With regard to the fact that the step-by-step approach was agreed upon by the two sides, how do you assess the implementation guarantee of this modality? If any of the sides involved do not live up to their commitments or at least do not meet the expectations of the other side in a satisfactory manner, what will happen?

Baqeri: I don’t think there is any guarantee for implementation in this regard in the form of recorded legal standards and international guarantees. It appears that the implementation guarantee for both sides is the policy tools and bargaining chips they have at hand. The Islamic Republic of Iran’s bargaining chip is its capability of making progress in the area of nuclear technology and the trump card of the West is the policy of pressure and threat. From this perspective, one may claim that both sides have achieved a sort of deterrence which can play the role of a guarantee for implementing the agreed plans.

Moreover, the “step-by-step” character of the plan itself includes an internal guarantee, on the basis of which if either side delays or evades taking an expected step, the whole plan will fail. Therefore, the very fact that both sides are required to take mutual measures in due course acts as a kind of guarantee for implementing the whole plan.

Borhan: Given the recent presidential elections in France and the defeat of the electoral right-wing candidate – Nicolas Sarkozy – it appears that the process of administration change will reduce Paris’s influence over the upcoming negotiations to some extent, whereas the attitude of the former French government was among the closest to that of Israel. With this in mind, can one claim that the influence or weight of this bloc of the whole P5+1 group, namely, the United States, Britain and France, will be less than that of the other, which is apparently made up of China, Russia and Germany? What is the potential impact of this upon the negotiations?

Baqeri: I think in any case the current changes and developments will have an effect upon both sides’ bargaining power and position. In this respect, the return to power of Vladimir Putin in Russia and the consolidation of Russia’s position is one of the points which will seriously influence the process of negotiations.

In addition, as you mentioned, the election of Francois Hollande as French president will not be without any impact upon the process of Baghdad talks, given his specific views within the European Union and their serious influence upon Germany. On the whole, the political replacements and changes that take place in the West, involving left-wing and right-wing parties, will influence talks over Iran’s nuclear issue and change, in one way or another, the whole atmosphere against the United States and the Zionist regime and to the advantage of Iran.

It should also be noted that the recent developments in the Middle East will have an effect on the issue. In fact, the extent to which Kofi Annan’s peace plan may be implemented successfully in Syria and other regional issues can somehow increase Iran’s power and influence. All in all, I think the developments in the surrounding region has boosted Iran’s position in the Baghdad talks to some extent.

Of course, one should not overlook the issue that the degree of internal coherence within the Iranian leadership and the unity and unanimity in taking the relevant decisions, particularly on the nuclear issue, will also enable Iran to attend the 23 May negotiations with greater power and confidence.

Borhan: For the time being and in the run up to the Baghdad negotiations, can one think of a particular advantage Iran may have compared to the last round of nuclear talks?

Baqeri: A number of our special advantages come from the specific regional and international circumstances and developments, particularly the US need for relative international stability and peace as well as its efforts to tackle the crises it faces. In addition, the venue of the talks is also important as Iran’s positive relations with the host of this meeting – Iraq – shows the depth of the influence of the Islamic Republic.

However, the extent to which our demands will be met is questionable. Yet, to my mind, the current circumstances will lead to the Western side’s positions converging with or becoming closer to those of Iran. Of course, it should not be expected that all Iran’s demands will be accepted and met one by one.

Key Words: Step-by-Step Approach, Nuclear Negotiations, Baghdad, Iran and P5+1 Group, France, Russia, Modality, Sanctions, Guarantee, Baqeri

Source: Borhan News Site
Translated By: Iran Review

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