Win-Win Nuclear Deal Maintains Discourse Balance in Iran

Monday, June 29, 2015

Hossein Kebriaeezadeh
Expert on Middle East Issues

The experience of one decade of nuclear diplomacy by Iran from the onset of the country’s nuclear case under the reformist administration of former president, Seyed Mohammad Khatami, up to its rapid progress under the moderate administration of President Hassan Rouhani has been marked with many ups and downs as a result of the absence of fixed behavioral models governing Iran's foreign policy apparatus. As a result, Iran's foreign policy orientations were at times not a function of systematic components of power and the resultant restrictions in international system, but were simply a function of personal and psychological traits of the incumbent president.

In 2002, the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS) claimed that Iran's nuclear program pursued military goals and the country was trying to build nuclear bomb. Subsequently, Iran's domestic political atmosphere was shaped on the basis of the component of fighting against world arrogance, which was one of the main components of the country’s ideological discourse.

After formulation of the national security strategy of the United States on the basis of fighting terrorism and theorization of preemptive attacks against Iran by the former US president, George W. Bush, Iran found itself in a special situation. As a result, despite the revival of an ideological discourse inside the country, pragmatism started to take hold of Iran's foreign policy with the goal of heading off the great threat that had been posed to the Islamic Republic. Therefore, a deep gap was created between various discourses that governed Iran's domestic and foreign policies at that critical juncture.

The final outcome of pragmatism in Iran's nuclear diplomacy at that juncture was the acceptance of the Additional Protocol to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and cautious interaction with European countries that had been alienated by the United States unilateralism. Negotiations with the European troika – the UK, France, and Germany – led to agreements between the two sides in Sa'dabad, Brussels and Paris, preventing Iran's nuclear case from being referred to the United Nations Security Council and causing peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear activities to be recognized.

Due to its high cost, including suspension of Iran's nuclear activities and, in fact, due to the aforesaid discourse gap created within the country, that achievement was met with scathing criticism inside Iran and even some conservative factions argued that it was against the country's national interests.

Subsequent measures taken by the European side, breach of their promises with regard to the implementation of agreements with Iran, and lack of correct understanding of domestic political conditions in Iran by the European states, further strengthened the ideological discourse inside the country. The result of all these developments was the adoption of an aggressive approach by the new nuclear negotiating team.

The new team came up with a different and discourse-based definition of interaction with the world and protection of national interests. As a result, Iranian negotiators tried to put an end to the monopoly of European countries in Iran's nuclear case and also stopped the voluntary suspension of nuclear activities in order to show Iran's resolve to maintain its indigenized nuclear fuel cycle.

Subsequently, the P5+1 group was substituted for the troika. Adoption of the first and second sanctions resolutions by the UN Security Council against Iran included the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps and many Iranian figures into the blacklist of sanctions. Iran, in reaction, passed a double-urgency bill at the parliament, which urged the administration to revise its relations with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). As a result of these developments, both sides reached the conclusion that the diplomatic approach is useless and talks started about other options available on the table.

This trial and error approach further highlighted the importance of the Iranian discourse in the eyes of the Western side following the election of the moderate President Hassan Rouhani. On the other hand, Iran's diplomatic apparatus reached the conclusion that there should be a balance between two dominant discourses and this balance was even generalized to the composition of the new nuclear negotiating team.

As a result of that balance, for the first time in post-revolution history, the taboo of engaging in direct negotiations with the United States was shattered, but the negotiations were made limited to Iran's nuclear issue. This approach had a great impact by rendering lobbying efforts of Israel and regional opposition against Iran's nuclear program useless. This issue made the cost of shattering the taboo of direct talks with the “Great Satan” justifiable for domestic supporters of the ideological discourse. Various rounds of negotiations have rapidly progressed in the past two years and out of all legal and political issues that were bones of contention between the two sides, only two issues have remained on the agenda of the two sides’ diplomats, who are racing against time to find solutions to those issues before the deadline set for the end of June. Those issues include the quality of inspections of Iran's nuclear sites and removal of sanctions imposed on the country, both of which are more of a technical than political nature.

It is evident that resolution of these two issues within coming days and in a way that would lead to a win-win game for both sides, would maintain discourse-based balance in Iran and will also pave the way for the implementation of a possible comprehensive agreement over Iran's nuclear program. Otherwise, in view of a recent decision made by the Islamic Consultative Assembly (Iranian parliament), which obligates the administration to safeguard the country’s nuclear achievements, the importance of the ideological discourse would be highlighted within the country. In this way and due to a discourse gap between the diplomatic apparatus and domestic policies, Iran would witness a repetition of the conditions that existed under the former reformist government and everything would be back to zero point.

Key Words: Nuclear Deal, Discourse Balance, Reformist Administration, Moderate Administration, Domestic Political Atmosphere, Pragmatism, Nuclear Diplomacy, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Additional Protocol, Iran, Kebriaeezadeh

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