Why Iran Should Both Negotiate and Suffer from Sanctions?

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Interview with Mehdi Mohammadi
Expert on Strategic Issues

Borhan’s Political Group: Revocation of Western sanctions against Iran has been among Iran's proclaimed goals of negotiations with the West. Therefore, after imposition of new sanctions against Iran, it seems that the country has no more reason to continue with nuclear talks. In the following interview, Mehdi Mohammadi, an expert on strategic issues, has answered questions about the reason behind continuation of negotiations while Western sanctions are escalating.

Q: Despite continuation of the Western sanctions against Iran, why Iran should go on with nuclear talks with the P5+1 group – including the US, the UK, Germany, France, China, and Russia – at any level? Why negotiations should go on under these conditions?

A: There are a few points which should be taken into consideration as to the relationship between sanctions and negotiations. The first point on which Iran has put continued emphasis is that negotiations is the sole means of finding a solution to Iran’s nuclear issue. In fact, going on with negotiations has been Iran’s unwavering strategy. There is no mentionable instance in which Iran has refused to take part in negotiations or walked away from them. On the opposite, the other party has always left the table and has tried to resort to a method other than the negotiations in order to achieve its goals. Historical evidence shows that whenever this policy has failed, the Western countries have gotten back to the negotiating table.

Negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 in Istanbul constitute a prominent example of this issue. Following Istanbul talks, Iran announced that it is ready to continue with the negotiations until an acceptable result is achieved. The opposite party, however, had pinned all its hope on Iran sanctions. Therefore, it was in fact the Western parties that decided to discontinue negotiations and try the sanctions path hoping that sanctions will help to soften Iran’s position during negotiations.

Another example was when the West decided to oppose the famous Tehran Declaration after negotiations leading to it proved successful, and rather pursue adoption of the Security Council Resolution 1929. The West believed that the resolution will totally change Iran’s strategic calculations about its nuclear program. On the whole, whenever the two sides have got close to a solution for the nuclear issue through negotiations, certain parties have decided to abort talks and replace them with mounting pressure on Iran through sanctions.

The second point with regard to the relationship between negotiations and sanctions – as the most prominent example of pressure on Iran – is that Iran has invariably answered to sanctions. No sanctions have been imposed on Iran unless they have received proportionate and suitable answer from Iran. For example, in reaction to the most recent sanctions imposed on the Islamic Republic by the United States and European Union, Iran has given a firm and clear response to those sanctions. It has stage military maneuvers while simultaneously announcing that it is planning to produce a new kind of fuel for its submarines and ships, which would allow them to travel long distances without the need for refueling.

Experts argue that this can be nothing but the nuclear fuel. Therefore, Iran has responded to sanctions both in military terms, and in technical and nuclear terms. Some people maintain that the best answer to Western sanctions is discontinuation of negotiations with the P5+1. Iran’s policy, however, is to first prove that sanctions have had no effect on the resolve of the Iranian nation to continue with the nuclear energy program, and secondly, discontinuation of negotiations will not be Iran’s answer to pressures. Iran’s commitment to negotiations does not mean that it will not answer to sanctions. Iran has always given proportionate answers to sanctions, but that answer has never culminated in discontinuation of sanctions.

The third point about the relationship between pressures and negotiations is that Iran has always tried to use negotiations as a means of giving an appropriate answer to the sanctions. First we must know what are the fundaments of dual-track pressure – sanctions strategy? They believe that pressures will provide more incentive for continuation of negotiations. Iran has tried to prove through its behavioral model, especially since 2005, to show that pressure will not only fail to encourage negotiations, but will also disrupt them. In other words, the higher the pressure goes, the more intransigent Iran will appear at the negotiating table and will ask for more concessions. Meanwhile, mounting pressures will also lengthen the path which should be taken to achieve a solution to the nuclear issue.

In fact Iran’s behavior in negotiations has been such as to make the Western side understand that the pressure model is an inefficient model. For example, in the spring of 2008, Western countries proposed “suspension” of Iran’s nuclear program, instead of a complete “freeze.” However, after adoption of five resolutions, the West reached the conclusion that pressure-negotiations approach is an inefficient one.

During Istanbul 2 negotiations, which were held after Iran had already undergone various kinds of sanctions, the West for the first time clearly admitted to Iran’s right to enrich uranium. It seems that this idea should have gradually occurred to the Western countries that the mere use of the pressure option is not the best solution to Iran’s nuclear issue and they should change their red lines in talks with Tehran. The existing evidence shows that grounds are being provided for such a change.

The fourth point to be mentioned here is that one reason behind the emphasis by the West, especially the Zionists, on the necessity of putting more pressure on Iran is to make Iran leave the negotiating table. In that case, they will be in a good position to forge international consensus against Iran and prove correctness of their anti-Iranian claims. Under the current circumstances, avoiding negotiations will only help the enemies of Iran. Therefore, the issue is not about Iran not taking part in negotiations, but is about how Tehran should do that. As a result, a correct strategy is one which will enable Iran to continue with negotiations in order to defend its rights without giving in to the West’s bullying policies. This is the strategy which Iran is currently following in negotiations on its nuclear program with the West.

Q: In view of the above facts, the current pressure – negotiations strategy has been so far unsuccessful. The question is why the West still insists on pursuing it?

A: It seems that the Western countries will never be able to replace the dual-track strategy of pressure – negotiations with any other strategy. Russians have tried to replace it with the idea of step by step negotiations, but the Americans do not actually believe in step by step negotiations. Therefore, they still continue to go on with the dual-track pressure – negotiation strategy. The number of those who criticize this approach, however, is gradually increasing in the Western countries. More importantly, the number of countries which are not willing to follow that strategy and keep their distance from it in favor of developing parallel interaction with Iran is also increasing.

However, revision of the existing strategy which will result in giving up pressures against Iran will not take place in the foreseeable future. Nevertheless, it should be noted that certain signals which have been, and are being, sent by some persons and political currents inside Iran, have made the West believe that sanctions have, in fact, had an effect on the country. This is the main reason why the West is inclined to go on with sanctions.

Perhaps, this has been one of the most important reasons why the dual-track strategy of pressure and negotiation has not been discarded yet. Therefore, the role played by domestic factors in encouraging the West to go on with its strategy to mount pressure on Iran should not be easily ignored. Some Western countries reached the conclusion, especially in 2009, that mounting pressure is an efficient means of influencing Iran’s political calculations. Before, 2008, the Americans had clearly reached the conclusion that the way pressure is exerted on Iran should be basically revised.

Q: How do you see the future outlook of sanctions and negotiations?

A: Sometime in the future, the Western side will have to suspend sanctions. Continuation of sanctions in the current way will render negotiations meaningless and, in fact, make Iran more intransigent in its approach to negotiations. Therefore, if Western countries are genuinely pursuing to achieve an agreement with Iran through talks, they should change their current approach. As to when this may happen, experts believe that it will not happen before the forthcoming presidential elections in the United States. The existing US administration, in view of domestic political issues which may increase election risks for the incumbent President Barack Obama, is not in a position to make a decision on reducing sanctions.

The package that Iran presented in Moscow talks, whose contents were also made public, clearly emphasized on this point that there will be no solution to Iran’s nuclear issue unless sanctions are modified. It seems that modification of sanctions is a mandatory option for the West and it will inevitably happen somewhere along the way. Western countries will have to both lift the anti-Iranian sanctions and concede to new initiatives and solutions. However, as to when it will happen, it does not appear to be happening before the end of the current year and no major development will take place before that time.

Q: Before sanctions against Iran’s oil sector entered into force, they were expected to cause a remarkable oil price hike in the form of a major market shock. However, this has not happened as expected and the situation has exhilarated Western media circles. What is your opinion about this?

A: In short, the impact of Iran oil sanctions on the international market will appear in two ways. Firstly, to show their full influence on the market, sanctions should be given enough time because oil contracts are usually signed for three- and six-month periods. Some time should go by before the market feels the 20-percent void of Iran’s oil exports to Europe. The time has not come yet for the sanctions to show their influence on various markets. The oil market has not reached a balance yet. In other words, the market is not ready to cope with the absence of this amount of oil yet.

The second point is that sanctions should be enforced with their full force. At present, sanctions against Iran are still on paper and have not been enforced in reality. When sanctions are not implemented in the way that Western countries have actually planned, it is natural for them not to have a resounding effect on the oil market. One of the most important reasons why oil market has not experienced a shocking hike despite implementation of Iran oil sanctions is that sanctions have not been implemented in the way that Europeans claimed to be the case.

Q: The existing sanctions are, in fact, West’s last resort against Iran. In view of this fact, is it really possible for the West to make more severe decisions against Iran? Does the West have more severe options to use against Iran?

A: Western countries have admitted that the existing sanctions against Iran constitute the maximum level of sanctions which can be enforced against the country. This means that oil sanctions and sanctions against the Central Bank of Iran are the final stage of sanctions which can be practically enforced against Iran. Therefore, the sanctions cannot be made more powerful. One of the crises with which the Western side will be grappling in the future is that if sanctions fail to produce an effect and change Iran’s resolve, what more tools will be available to them to continue the pressure strategy against Iran?

This is among questions for which the P5+1 group has no clear answer now. Given the fact that a military option against Iran is practically out of the question, the Western side will be faced with some kind of strategic bottleneck in its effort to continue the dual-track strategy of pressure and negotiation. It is noteworthy that the option of military strike is basically not on the table anymore and the main objective of the West’s belligerent literature is just to give credit to its military threat against Iran and increase the impact of sanctions.

Key Words: Negotiations, Sanctions, Iran, West, P5+1 Group, Dual-Track Strategy, Strategic Bottleneck, Mohammadi

Source: Borhan News Site
Translated By: Iran Review.Org

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