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08/30/10

Negotiation with US on Afghanistan Is an Opportunity

Source: Iranian Diplomacy (Translated by Iran Review)

Interview with Dr. Davoud Hermidas Bavand, University Professor and Iran-US Analyst

Q: Negotiation between Iran and international community, especially the United States, is currently a hot topic for media and politicians. US President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have called for bilateral talks on Afghanistan in the past week. On the other side, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has also called for face to face dialogue with his American counterpart. Do you really think that this is a true call for negotiation on both sides or just a political gesture?

A: I think that the offer of negotiations by western countries is not a political gesture, but is as genuine as sanctions are; both UN sanctions and unilateral ones imposed by the United States and Europe. These are realities, not political maneuvers. The call for negotiation is true because even the Security Council has emphasized in its resolutions on the possibility of negotiation and has called on Iran to engage in negotiations with 5+1. A similar proposal had been already put forth by the Americans. The European Union has also missioned Catherine Ashton to continue negotiations with Iran's nuclear negotiator, Mr. Jalili. Therefore, negotiation is looked upon as a solution to the current standoff by both the United Nations (in four sanction resolutions it has thus far adopted on Iran) and by other western authorities. It is, then, for the Islamic Republic of Iran to decide whether to go into negotiations or not.

Q: To what extent, do you think that the Iranian side is ready for talks? Can we expect bilateral Iran-US talks in the near future?

A: It seems that there is no uniform negotiation strategy on the side of the Islamic Republic as officials make contradictory remarks which are, at times, quite at odds with one another. While President Ahmadinejad declares readiness to talk to his American counterpart, spokesman of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announces that bilateral negotiations with the United States are out of the question. There is some kind of confusion on Iran's side.

Q: Perhaps, Iran believes that suitable conditions for negotiations do not exist. Iran, for example, has asked for Brazil and Turkey to be partners to negotiations, but this is not going to happen. Don't you think that this is a cause for dawdling on the part of Iran?

A: I don't think that this would be possible. Iran has proposed this, but the west has not been enthusiastic about it. It seems that even Turkey's and Brazil's past position has changed. I even think that a recent proposal by the Brazilian president to grant asylum to Sakineh Mohammadi, who has been sentenced to stoning and then hanging for adultery in Iran, is a sign of that change because they knew that Iran would not accept the offer. The proposal was just an excuse to allow Brazil distance from Iran after its rejection and stay clear of Iran's nuclear issue. The United States has proposed bilateral talks on the nuclear issue, but Iran has been unwilling to engage in such talks. Then, the United States and the Security Council proposed negotiations through 5+1. That framework has not changed and I don't think that Brazil or Turkey can change anything.

Q: How possible do you think bilateral talks are in view of the relatively hostile conditions governing the two countries' relations?

A: The Americans have called for negotiations on Afghanistan. This is an opportunity because both countries hold interests in Afghanistan and share common views, especially about possible return of Taliban to power. Therefore, this is a ground for common understanding which will positively affect other areas of contention like the nuclear issue. I think this opportunity should be taken advantage of because if it led to understanding, it would modify both sides' positions and pave the way for further negotiations.

Q: Do you mean that bilateral talks should first focus on Afghanistan?

A: Under current circumstances, negotiation on an area of common interest can break the ice and its results will influence other areas where negotiation is advised. Therefore, when negotiation on a specific issue proves successful and satisfactory to both sides, it is sure to make both parties take the same approach to other issues, especially the nuclear issue.

Q: How possible is an agreement between Iran and the United States on Afghanistan?

A: Analysts maintain that Iran and the United States have common interests in Afghanistan. Firstly, restoration of Taliban to power in Afghanistan will be detrimental to both countries. Secondly, the flow of narcotics from Afghanistan is against long-term interests of both Tehran and Washington. Therefore, they can cooperate in Afghanistan.

However, any possible negotiation on Afghanistan will not be a silver bullet and solve all problems. Many factors are at work in Afghanistan. However, if negotiations similar to those which had been previously carried out in Bonn and Cyprus were undertaken and proved to be positive, they would inevitably open the door for negotiation in other areas and may even break the deadlock on Iran's nuclear issue. I mean, negotiation on Afghanistan will set a precedent for negotiation on other issues.

Q: So, you don't believe that the nuclear issue should be a priority for negotiations?

A: I mean, if priority is given to Afghanistan under the existing conditions and agreements are reached, it will pave the way for negotiations on other issues, especially the nuclear issue. However, if negotiations are exclusively centered on the nuclear issue, they will be more problematic.

About Iran Review: Iran Review (www.iranreview.org) is the leading independent, non-governmental and non-partisan website - organization 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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