Iran Viewpoint: The Baghdad Nuclear Talks: Accepting Principles, Bargaining Interests – OpEd

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By Kayhan Barzegar

The upcoming nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1, the US, Russia, Britain, France, China plus Germany, is set to be held in Baghdad on May 23, 2012. The success of this round of talks depends on the extent to which the two sides recognize each other’s “principles” in an attempt to build initial trust and pave the way for further bargaining over “interests” in the next rounds.

The principles of both sides in the nuclear talks are crystal clear; for Iran, the right to enrich uranium on Iranian soil is an irreversible principle; and for the P5+1, the assurance that Iran’s nuclear program will not have a military dimension. At this stage, recognizing both sides’ principles is a political-strategic issue at the states and powers’ relations. Iran’s major success in the talks has been the basis of the creation of a “political equality” for establishing its principles. Having that in mind, the P5+1 members, specifically the US, have entered this new round of negotiations.

Under the existing circumstances, the major discussion in the Baghdad talks revolves around building initial trust in order to facilitate future bargaining and maximize mutual interests. Here, Iran’s interests lies in securing the strategic leverage for maximizing its interests in the negotiation process. The interests of the P5+1, however, lie in bargaining the enforcement of strict rules and regulations within the framework of approving the Additional Protocol for preventing a nuclear military diversion.

For Iran, bargaining over securing its interests in the context of the NPT offers a better outlook for success. For the West, success will be ensured through bargaining within the framework of the political-security processes of power relations at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and continuing the political pressures in order to curb and manage Iran’s independent uranium enrichment activity and also, to particularly retain world powers’ monopoly on the production of nuclear fuel under the IAEA’s strict regulations as much as possible.

Contrary to some pessimistic views, which foresee a possible failure for the Baghdad talks, due to the two sides’ rigidity, at present, the prospects of the negotiations are not that grim. As a matter of fact, the recent developments which brought about a “mutual realism”, have even signaled brighter prospects for the negotiations. However, it should not be expected that the Baghdad talks will necessarily lead to a final settlement of all existing issues.

The characteristics of Iran’s nuclear program, with its national and strategic importance, on the one hand, and its relation with the regional and international geostrategic issues on the other, have prompted all the negotiating sides to work towards resolving this problem. In other words, the continuation of Iran’s nuclear crisis is not to the interest of regional and global peace and security; therefore, no one expects for this to drag on forever.

Moreover, the regional and global developments also call for an immediate settlement of the crisis. At a regional level, the Arab uprisings have challenged the outlook for regional peace and stability. Therefore, it should be important for the US and the West to seek a solution for resolving and controlling Iran’s nuclear program and accordingly, curbing Iran’s influence and role against the backdrop of the instability in the Middle East.

Globally, the political developments and changes in the leadership of Russia and France have challenged the prospects for the flimsy P5+1 alliance. In Russia, Vladimer Putin’s return to the country’s political stage and Moscow’s active role in the regional developments, including the veto of the Western-sponsored resolution of the UN Security Council against Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria, all herald further closeness of Iran and Russia, aimed at maintaining the interests of both countries within the framework of the existing balance of power in the region. Therefore, it seems that Russia will adopt a more active role in favor of Iran’s nuclear program and against the West’s unilateral policies. Moscow is more likely to block fresh economic sanctions or any military intervention by the UN Security Council.

On the other hand, after the election of Francois Hollande in France, the country’s policy towards Iran’s nuclear program is more likely to change, particularly compared with France’s firm stance on the enforcement of sanctions and political pressures under Nikolas Sarkozy’s tenure. At least, France is expected not to thoroughly follow the US and that it may adopt more independent policies.

Europe and France are experiencing an economic recession. Therefore, the EU cannot afford to wait for a long time for the US’s “sanction and pressure diplomacy” to succeed. In this respect, energy security and the need for preventing a rise in oil prices is likely to motivate the EU to adopt a more active role in resolving Iran’s nuclear crisis.

Although the US-Israel views seek to underscore the strength of the P5+1 alliance, the reality is that the members of the group only agree unanimously on one matter that is the prevention of a military diversion of Iran’s nuclear program. Otherwise, they do not share the same view on other issues such as how to approach the crisis, build mutual confidence and continue the negotiations in a step-by-step process.

In this context, Iran’s nuclear issue is indeed considered as an opportunity for the international community, as it indicates that great powers, other than the US, can play a key role in balancing the hard-line views in the international arena and this is to the interest of the regional and international peace and security. At this point, Russia and China as well as Germany and even recently, France–from the EU, can better view the negotiations as a win-win situation, because contrary to the US, that mostly views the issue from the perspective of balance of power, deterrence and safeguarding Israel’s security, the other P5+1 members basically recognize Iran’s right to enrich uranium on its soil.

In the Baghdad talks, the main issue is allaying the “mutual concerns” by providing a mutual workable solution. As discussed, the solution should be based on upholding the principles and ensuring the two sides’ interests. Recognition of the right to enrich uranium on Iranian soil is tantamount with the recognition of Iran’s principles by the West. On the other hand, Iran’s reassurances for further cooperation with the IAEA and the recent Fatwa by the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, on banning nuclear armaments are considered as Iran’s recognition of the West’s principles.

The mutual interests require providing the grounds for trust-building. One is to shift towards comprehensive security within the context of all-out nuclear disarmament in the Middle East, mainly, as a constructive initiative for Iran and the P5+1. The other is mutual cooperation in order to resolve regional crises such as that of Syria and Afghanistan.

Iran should not lose its valuable strategic leverages, including the acceleration and development of its nuclear activities as well as its role and influence on regional issues, until it makes sure that the talks have been completely finalized, as such a loss will result in a political inequality which might place Iran in a disadvantageous position.

Lastly, all signs testify Iran’s determination to cooperate and resolve its nuclear issue. Yet, the West should not consider Iran’s participation in the talks as a sign of Tehran’s weakness. Sanctions and political pressures will not change Iran’s nuclear calculus. Therefore, the West should not repeat the mistake that it made in May 2010 by rejecting Tehran’s Declaration – a move which further complicated the nuclear crisis.

Under the existing circumstances, the continuation of Iran’s nuclear crisis is not to the benefit of the involved parties, including Iran. The Baghdad talks should be another major step in building trust between both sides. The regional and global geostrategic nature of Iran’s nuclear program requires a step-by-step approach so that both sides could have enough time to fulfill their real demands and achieve the expected balance in their internal political scene as well as their regional and international relations. To achieve this important goal, both sides should, before anything, fully recognize each other’s “principles” in an attempt to set the stage for future talks.

The Farsi version of this article was published in Shargh Newspaper’s opinion page.

*Kayhan Barzegar is Director of the Institute for Middle East Strategic Studies. He is also Chair of the Department of Political Science and International Relations, Science and Research Branch of the Islamic Azad University in Tehran.

Iran Review

Iran Review is a Tehran-based site that claims to be independent, non-governmental and non-partisan and representing scientific and professional approaches towards Iran’s political, economic, social, religious, and cultural affairs, its foreign policy, and regional and international issues within the framework of analysis and articles.

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