Why 5+1 Passed Over Cooperation Agenda?

Monday, February 7, 2011

Mohammad Sadri

Active ImageRecent developments in the Middle East have overshadowed debates on the latest round of Iran's negotiations with 5+1 in Istanbul despite strategic importance of those talks and the fact that many aspects of it still remain unexplored. One of the most important issues about Istanbul negotiations is prior forecasts by the Iranian analysts about 5+1 not being able to abide by the agenda to which the negotiating parties agreed in Geneva 3 talks. Those forecasts came true as the language used by the European side signaled regression to the situation in October 2003. This paper will try to provide reasons for this development.

According to available information, EU’s senior negotiator, Catherine Ashton, had emphasized at the beginning of Istanbul negotiations that the agreement reached in Geneva was on “finding common cooperation grounds.” However, after negotiations began, she noted that the most important issue regarding cooperation was Iran’s nuclear program! Such an attitude to the nuclear case proves that Ashton and 5+1 have taken the most simplistic approach to the idea of cooperation, never paying attention to valuable opportunities offered for a win-win game by that idea which cannot be offered by any other discourse. Why 5+1 was not serious about the agreement reached in Geneva?

There are important reasons behind that approach:

Firstly, when the two sides agreed in Geneva 3 talks on “negotiations for cooperation” agenda, that agreement did not stem from a firm belief on the western side in replacing the “confidence building” discourse with a new one. Western countries had agreed on an issue which they actually did not believe in and had not even understood its strategic importance. They failed to realize why Iran emphasized on the need to enter into a new phase of cooperation. In addition, they were well aware that the agreement was in Iran’s benefit because it enabled Tehran to avoid discussing points of difference and also to evade the west’s alleged concerns about its nuclear program. In fact, 5+1 agreed on an agenda which it meant to disregard from the very beginning. The question is if the west believed that the agenda was in Iran’s favor, why did they accept it in the first place? There is a simple, though very important, answer to this question. Western countries, especially the United States, knew that if they rejected Iran’s offer, Tehran would lose interest in continuation of negotiations and that would be the end of dialogue. At present, a key component of the United States’ Iran strategy is to continue long-term negotiations with Iran to reach an agreement on general outlines of such negotiations. (The reason behind this approach would be explained elsewhere.) The Iranian negotiating team in Geneva made sure that the western side had understood that continuation of negotiations would hinge on the acceptance of Iran’s logic. This is why 5+1 and Catherine Ashton accepted Iran’s proposed agenda without actually believing in it in order to use it as a platform to reach further agreement with Iran over schedule and venue of a long-term dialogue. So, Geneva agreement was the product of the west’s strategic need to continue negotiations with Iran.

The second reason why 5+1 failed to live up to Geneva agenda in Istanbul was inability of the western negotiators, especially the United States, to achieve strategic understanding of the correct meaning of a negotiation agenda which emphasized on the need to identify common cooperation grounds. The Americans believed that combining available options with sanctions will prove successful and they only had to make time. This is the exact meaning of making time for diplomacy which has been frequently stated by the American diplomats. Therefore, when Americans put their utmost hope in a strategy whose centerpiece is sanctions, they will naturally slur over other agendas at the present time. Iran’s fundamental premise for any negotiations is that the west will not reduce pressures unless it has to do so and it will have to do so only after it makes sure that its strategy has no chance of success. For reasons which cannot be discussed here, the United States is not in a position to think about sanctions in this way and, therefore, is not ready to replace its two-tier strategy for any other substitute. Therefore, 5+1 has not taken dialogue agenda seriously because they have not reached the conclusion that the two-tier strategy should be corrected and they need more time to realize that.

The third factor which prompted 5+1 to disregard Geneva agreement was existence of serious internal differences for which they have not been able to find a solution. Various members of 5+1 do not follow the same strategic approach to Iran’s nuclear program. The United States sees the program as a strategic threat and Israelis consider it a threat to their very survival. The European troika considers the nuclear program from the viewpoint of nonproliferation while Russia and China attach the highest significance to the role of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). They are also willing to be recognized by the United States as equal powers by playing a role in such cases as Iran’s nuclear program. It was evident before Istanbul negotiations that such differences will prevent 5+1 members from making a collective decision even though Washington did its best to downplay those differences. Before negotiations started, the Russians indicated to Iran that they were going to play the role of good police. The Russian President Dmitri Medvedev called his Iranian counterpart and his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, clearly announced that dismantling sanctions should be on the negotiation agenda. China went as far as telling Iran that it had accepted those paragraphs of Tehran Declaration which forebode hostile measures against Iran. Another difference was revealed when the French representative ignored the contents of Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) by urging Iran to forget about uranium enrichment altogether! At the same time, Washington was trying to calm down all sides and convince Iran to accept the new mechanism of nuclear swap without directly talking about the uranium enrichment.

When Catherine Ashton proved her naivety by declaring that she believed that negotiations had hit a deadlock, the Americans moved fast to correct her remarks by rejecting any deadlock in the negotiations. These and many other instances clearly prove that 5+1 is not a consolidated group, but represents a heterogeneous collection of viewpoints. Such differences are usually made worse when it comes to agreement on a cooperation agenda. France and UK are the most reluctant members of 5+1 to be involved in cooperation discourse because they neither have remarkable economic interests in Iran, nor are faced with problems which can be solved by Iran. Russia, China and Germany (Russia and China more than Germany which is part of the European Union) are undoubtedly interested in cooperation with Iran because groundless concerns about the nuclear program are much less important than their huge economic and regional interests. Perhaps this is why Sergei Lavrov clearly announced before Istanbul negotiations that economic and regional issue should be included in negotiations with Iran.

Such differences constitute a very serious barrier which prevents 5+1 members from noticing certain facts. Even when noticing them, they are not able to make a unanimous decision.

Translated By: Iran Review

Link for Further Reading:
*Getting Iran Right By: Paul R. Pillar

طراحی و توسعه آگاه‌سیستم