An Iranian nuke deal is more political than technical
Camelia Entekhabi-Fard /A Arabiya
Monday, 6 October 2014
For the second time during his 13 months in office, Iranian President Hassan Rowhani addressed the United Nations General Assembly at the U.N.’s 69th annual session in New York two weeks ago. He seized the opportunity to reiterate his determination to make progress in Iran’s nuclear talks and raised the Islamic Republic’s point of view in a very straightforward and serious manner.
The nuclear talks resumed on Sep. 18 on the sidelines of the General Assembly, with Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif acting as Iran’s chief negotiator.
This year’s round of talks reached the most critical stage of negotiation since last year, as both Iran’s president and the U.S. spoke of a diplomatic solution as the preferred method of solving this almost-a-decade-long issue over the Islamic Republic’s controversial nuclear program.
The talks ended on Sep. 26 after an intense week of negotiating with almost no details given to the media. At a press conference in New York, Rowhani said: “Today there is a serious intent which is quite evident to perceive even through the words. Serious will does exist (in reference to the nuclear talks).”
I must state at no time since Rowhani took office have I heard such a serious tone in the last few days in New York about the level of engagement and will to progress in the talks, no matter if the media haven’t been updated or briefed.
Iran has less than eight weeks to reach a comprehensive agreement with world powers and settle the negotiations. Iran’s other option is to walk away from the talks completely, which is very unlikely.
“For Iran, limiting their nuclear program is tantamount to limiting the revolution’s value. Taking this major step requires courage on the Islamic Republic’s part”
Disputes over Iran’s controversial nuclear program have put enormous pressure on Iran’s economy and tarnished its international prestige simply because it could not prove the program is peaceful.
The sanctions have pushed Iran to act more aggressively on the world stage – and have further empowered the hardliners.
Solving the nuclear file is a major national security concern for Rowhani, who took on his government’s challenge to come to New York to show support for Iran’s delegation in the talks, despite opposition from hardliners. Rowhani also took the opportunity to meet with other leaders and elaborate Iran’s view of the crisis engulfing the region.
At his speech to the U.N. Security Council on Sep. 24, Obama called on Iran to “not let the opportunity pass” for a breakthrough in the nuclear talks.
It appears the two former foes fully appreciate the importance of this opportunity but have not seized it, because they each want to have the upper hand in this agreement. Clearly, both Iran and the United States wish to reach a comprehensive deal before the interim deadline expires on Nov. 24 – but neither wants to sell themselves easy after decades of animosity and disputes.
Rowhani repeated the same message Obama delivered to the Security Council, calling the nuclear agreement with Iran a “unique opportunity” before them to resolve the dispute and an historical event which “shouldn’t be missed.”
Rowhani also noted he was engaging in indirect talks with Obama. The two presidents spoke on the phone last year about many issues, but agreed to solve the nuclear matter before dealing with other concerns, Rowhani said at a talk with a group of intellectuals and policy makers at the New America Foundation think-tank on Sept 24.
Nothing has been arranged between the two presidents this year because the nuclear file has not yet been settled and the regional crisis over the deteriorating situation in Iraq and Syria and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) isn’t being handled in the manner Iran believes it ought to be.
Iran has not been invited to join the U.S.-formed coalition against ISIS and this disappointment has been reflected in the behavior and attitude of Tehran’s politicians.
At the same New America Foundation talk, Rowhani expressed his opposition to the direct involvement of foreign countries in the regional confrontation with ISIS.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran is the only regional country which can help Iraq and has the aim, desire and the equipment to do it.” Rowhani said to Fareed Zakaria, the moderator of the New America Foundation program.
The role Iran wants to play in the region is much greater than what the U.S. suggested in the U.N. Security Council’s emergency meeting on Sep. 19 on ISIS and the crisis in Iraq.
“There is a role for nearly every country in the world to play, including Iran,” said Secretary of State John Kerry at the meeting.
But Iran is not “every country” in the world. Iraq shares some of its longest borders with Iran and Syria and hasn’t been included to the regional coalition.
“I believe if countries claiming leadership of the coalition are doing so to continue their hegemony in the region, they would be making a strategic mistake,” Rowhani said at the New America Foundation talk.
It’s clear Iran needs to make the nuclear deal first, and then work on other matters with the U.S., including security cooperation and combating terrorism in Iraq.
It also seems Iran and the United States are eager to reach a comprehensive deal before Nov. 24, regardless of the crisis in Iraq and Syria.
A Senior State Department official sent this email to journalists in New York covering the nuclear talks: “We thought it was time to touch base at the foreign minister level, trilaterally, as another step in the process. This will be a good opportunity to take stock of the work that has been done this week and discuss the path forward.”
Hearing mixed messages after weeks of intense talks and a looming deadline gives observers this sense where brinkmanship makes the both sides in the talks hold themselves together in a firm resolve to reach an agreement.
The U.S. wants Iran to act as a responsible member of the international community and commit itself not only to limiting its nuclear program, but also changing its regional behavior.
For Iran, limiting their nuclear program is tantamount to limiting the revolution’s value. Taking this major step requires courage on the Islamic Republic’s part, as well as the U.S.’s recognition of Iran as a regional power.
Perhaps now the obstacles to reaching a comprehensive nuclear agreement are more political than technical.
A senior U.S. official briefed a small group of journalists on Sep. 26 about the nuclear talks. “The gaps are still serious,” the official said, on the condition of anonymity. “We will continue the very hard work over the next weeks. There is still adequate time to work through these issues and arrive at a comprehensive agreement by the November deadline, some eight weeks away.”
According to Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi, Iran and the P5+1 (five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany) will resume the nuclear talks this week in an EU country. If the gaps are narrowed by then, a ministerial-level meeting between the powers is expected to take place sometime in November before the interim agreement expires on Nov. 24, 2014.