By Press TV
Interview with Jeff Steinberg, The Executive Intelligence Review
The upcoming round of talks between Iran and Western powers in Baghdad is critical as it could lead to “an interim agreement” between Tehran and the West, an analyst says.
The comment comes ahead of the upcoming round of talks between Iran and the P5+1 – permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany — in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad on May 23.
The two sides wrapped up the first round of their latest negotiations on April 14 in the Turkish city of Istanbul. Both sides hailed the talks as constructive.
Press TV has conducted an interview with Jeff Steinberg with the Executive Intelligence Review to further discuss the issue.
The video also provides the opinions of two additional guests, Kaveh Afrasiabi, author and political scientist and Nader Bagherzadeh professor at the University of Irvine.
What follows is a rough transcript of the interview.
Press TV: The first round of these talks, we know Jeff , ended with positive comments from both sides but ahead of the second round we are hearing negative comments by the West.
The US and Britain for instance they threatened Iran with sanctions. Iran we know has called this unconstructive. Why did the US and the UK resort to threats in the run up to the Baghdad talks?
Steinberg: Well, I think the fair question that needs to be asked is whether or not the governments of the UK and the US in particular really do want to see the talks reach a successful conclusion because some of the behavior in recent days, for example the official position announced by the representative of the European Union at the recent Non-Proliferation Treaty conference in Vienna seemed to be a pullback from the kind of dialogue and open attempt to reach a genuine global agreement that was present at the opening meeting in Istanbul.
So my question is whether or not it is going to be the policy of the governments of the United States and the UK in particular, to negotiate in good faith or to insist on capitulation on the part of Iran rather than diplomacy.
Press TV: We are hearing Hillary Clinton [US secretary of State] herself, we are hearing William Hague [UK foreign secretary] saying, in their own words, that they want concrete steps being taken from Iran and if Iran does not do that, they say it is going to face sanctions. What are these concrete steps, do you think that they are talking about?
Steinberg: I think that obviously one of the big issues is the 20 percent enriched uranium and the activities that are going on at the facility near Qom. That is going to be one of the big demands.
I think it is very important, first of all I agree with the other two guests that we are not going to have a clear idea of what the actual intentions of the P5+1 governments are, until the first, really, substantive talks begin in the next few days in Baghdad.
And there is always harsh rhetoric and jockeying around to create the most favorable diplomatic conditions to gain concessions from the other side going into it.
My point is that, that’s all well and good if that’s what’s going on here. If the intention is to throw a monkey wrench at exactly the moment that every signal that is coming from the Iranian government is that they are prepared to negotiate a fair and verifiable resolution of all of the big outstanding issues.
If the US and Britain in particular are going negotiate in good faith and I am very optimistic that we can get a real breakthrough and frankly if we have a normalization of relations with Iran meaning the sanctions are ended and we enter back into normal diplomacy, Iran can be enormously helpful in helping the United Sates deal with some other very big thorny challenges like the withdrawal from Afghanistan and having stability.
So the question is not going to be clearly answered until we see what comes out of Baghdad. I am a bit skeptical about how my government and the British government are going to behave. That is just my own experience with them, following them closely and I hope they are able to take a yes from Tehran.
Press TV: Mr. Steinberg, the US and its allies are continuing to say that Iran seeks to build nuclear weapons but repeated US’ NIEs or National Intelligence Estimates since 2007 have been stressing that Iran is not seeking nuclear weapons, so what is the reason for the nuclear arsenal allegations while it has been rejected at home and even by some Israeli intelligence officials.
Why do you think we are seeing this insistence and as a result of that insistence US sanctions, EU sanctions. What do you think about the legality of these sanctions?
Steinberg: Well, the other guests have quite correctly identified the fact that we are in an election year here in the United States; it is not just the presidential elections but it is every member of the House of Representatives and about a third of the members of the Senate and so everybody is hypersensitive to what the electoral implications will be of what they say and do.
Now as you have just correctly said, in 2007 the National Intelligence Council, in the office of the director of National Intelligence that is the comprehensive body of all 16 US intelligence agencies, in 2010 there was an update of that National Intelligence Estimate and several foreign governments, specifically Israel and Great Britain had provided information claiming that Iran had resumed work on a nuclear weapon.
The US Intelligence community studied that evidence, did further investigating and concluded that Iran was not engaged in any kind of weaponization program and that second (Nuclear Energy Institute) NEI in 2010 is still the official policy view of the intelligence community.
Politicians running for elections will say and do all kinds of things if they think it will garner them five extra votes, but ultimately we have diplomats and negotiators who will be sitting down in Baghdad before the end of this month.
They have the Intelligence community assessments Iran is not now engaged in critical work that would indicate that their nuclear program is a weapons program and so there is a very real prospect that something can be accomplished here.
But yes, it is an election year and that is a problem but also the Obama administration has said that they want to have a definitive idea of where these talks are headed by late June, early July.
In other words the Baghdad session and perhaps one or two others will give a clear indication of an interim agreement or a potential interim agreement long before the November elections and every body is going to make adjustments based on whether or not it looks like the president can campaign on the basis of a breakthrough deal or preparation for war.
There is no middle ground in the election year, it is a big complication.