Iran, nuclear negotiations and the Persian carpet weaving industry
Mohamed Chebarro/Al Arabiya
Friday, 7 November 2014
Ten years ago, a question made the rounds among politicians, researchers and journalist in the Middle East and Europe. The question was: what was more important for the Iranian regime in Tehran? Was it the success and export of the Islamic revolution, the crushing and controlling of post-Saddam Iraq, the entry into the nuclear bomb club, or its evolution into the regional policeman and leader of the Middle East?
To many it was one or the other, but for few, it was clear Iran wanted all of the above.
With the posturing Iran is currently showing in the negotiations aimed at curbing its nuclear ambitions, which Tehran insists is intended for civilian purposes, it is clear that the Islamic Republic is in no hurry to reach a deal, despite the looming Nov. 24 deadline.
Sanctions have been eased since the onset of talks between Iran and the P5+1 group. Concrete results are yet to emerge in the shape of a clear agreement to halt Iran’s apparent race to manufacture the bomb.
Iran seems in no hurry to reach an agreement that would likely fix its enrichment levels to below 5 percent and limit the number of centrifuges it owns and could activate, do away with the Fordo and Arak secret nuclear plants, and open its facilities to international inspections, especially Parchin, where Tehran is suspected of conducting advanced missile tests to carry nuclear warheads.
Recent comments by President Hassan Rowhani calling the Western powers to push for a deal in Vienna beyond the number of centrifuges and level of enrichment have even raised a negligible suggestion that Iran is negotiating for the sake of negotiations.
“Tehran, it seems, is playing the super powers and is maneuvering the best it can to position itself as a partner with nuclear weapons on the world stage, but also a regional player ”
Tehran, it seems, is playing the super powers and is maneuvering the best it can to position itself as a partner with nuclear weapons on the world stage, but also a regional player ready to act maturely and even play a role in issues related to peace and order in the region – possibly including the global fight against ISIS.
The latest photos from meetings in Vienna showed a comfortable Iranian foreign minister seated facing U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and between the two, the outgoing European Foreign Affairs tsar Catherine Ashton. This is an image that the Iranians wish to transmit to the world, and carries with it a message that Tehran is slowly edging in to play in the courtyard of the big powers.
Returning to Iran’s core interests show a state ready to negotiate for the sake of negotiation as slowly but surely it is winning legitimacy and stature in the region and on many fronts.
In Iraq, Iranian media today does not shy away from discussing a covert partnership with the international coalition. The planes are waging the air battles, and Iran’s advisors and generals are running the ground battles against ISIS.
No longer calling the shots
In Lebanon, it is no longer Damascus, Saudi Arabia, France or the United states that call the shots for ensuring stability, elections and filling key posts in a fragmented state. It is Iran through Hezbollah that is holding the keys of the vacant and locked Lebanese presidential palace until a time deemed suitable by Tehran’s leadership.
In Syria, despite an international coalition and many wars bent on removing Assad and his regime, Iran helped directly and openly to prop up the minority Alawite regime despite the rebellion of the mostly Sunni population against the brutal four-decade dictatorship of the Baathists.
In Yemen, the pro-Iranian Houthis have edged closer to complete their takeover of the country, be it directly or indirectly with or without the support of ousted President Saleh.
In Bahrain, and in Gaza, Iran’s policy and posturing is influencing the situation on the ground.
Whether the groups in both countries edge towards negotiation or confrontation, the regime under Tehran’s influence is never hidden to the point that politicians and media boast about having access to the Mediterranean and the frontiers of Israel, Saudi, and even Egypt through their allies across Sinai sands in Gaza.
Visitors to one of Tehran’s parks on weekends will not fail to notice many Iranians sitting and focusing their thoughts and eyes on a chess game. When asked, many locals reply that it is a national sport.
One even went further to tell me that in Iran “we do things slowly” – hence chess and its famous carpet weaving industry.
To many, my friend told me, the wool bundles in the corner of many Iranian village houses are cheap stock and are possibly obsolete and unusable. But to the Iranian villagers storing the bundles, the same wool is already a hand-woven and well-crafted expansive Persian rug to be sold in five or ten years if the market price is right.
This brings us back to the core question, is Iran ready for a nuclear deal that will reassure the world that Iran’s nuclear program is for peaceful, civilian purposes, which would pave the way for the gradual lifting of international sanctions – and ensure the rehabilitation of the Iranian regime?
All the indications point to Tehran’s usual slow approach and its wait and see game. The Western powers, on the other hand, are in a hurry after over a decade of negotiations.
Israel, Iran’s arch enemy, is panicking and also its Arab country neighbors too. The Obama administration feels the pressure after losing the majority in congress to a skeptic Republican majority bent on increasing, not decreasing, sanctions against Iran.
But in Tehran, things are calm. Negotiations are a must for all concerned parties, especially with the threat of ISIS banging on all doors in the Middle East, and some Western countries.
The Iranians are led to believe that the price of their nuclear program deal is rising with time, in the same way that the villager’s bundles of wool will one day become a treasured carpet.
So what’s wrong with negotiating for the sake of negotiations, as long as this is not interfering with the price of the carpet that is gaining value with every lit fire in the volatile wider Middle East?