Global conditions in the concluding months of the past Iranian year (ended March 20, 2011) have had great bearing on Iran and the United States’ role and influence in the Middle East region. There is no doubt that forecasting the prospect of the Iran-US relations in the Iranian New Year (March 2011-March 2012) will be of great significance.
Dr. Kayhan Barzegar is faculty member at the Science and Research Branch of the Islamic Azad University and also Director of International Affairs at the Center for Middle East Strategic Studies in Tehran. In an interview with Khabaronline, he maintains that “competitive interaction” will be the main feature of the Iran-US relations in the course of the New Year.
Q: How do you see the prospect of Iran-US relations in the course of the New Year particularly regarding the nuclear standoff?
A: I think that “competitive interaction” will dominate the Iran-US relations in the year ahead. Regarding the nuclear issue, the main problem is that the US statesmen are looking for a win-loss solution, win for the US and lose for Iran. According to an American policy tradition, in achieving its national security and interests, the United States does not cut a deal with rival regional powers, rather force them to change their so-called adversary policies. This was the typical attitude of the predecessor George W. Bush administration toward Iran which has unfortunately continued during the Obama presidency despite the initial hopes that the United States would change this policy.
Perhaps one of the greatest challenges related to Iran’s nuclear program is that the United States is focusing on the weaponization and deterrence theme of Iran’s nuclear program. This is quite the opposite of Iran’s actual approach which is based on the peaceful nuclear energy theme of the program. I think here Washington has started a black and white game. Because by overstressing that Iran’s nuclear program is only meant to develop weapons, Washington has raised the expectations in the US public opinion and the Congress alike and cannot back off now. I believe that President Obama is now caught in the middle of an ideological game initiated by the previous neo-cons administration in which every phenomenon is either black or white. This is also true about Iran’s nuclear program. For this reason, the Americans have contemplated a win-loss game and it is hard for them to change that path. A change in that attitude is the first precondition to break new grounds with regard to the nuclear standoff. The Americans should treat Iran’s nuclear program as a win-win game and show respect for Iran’s legal demands.
In a win-win strategy, both sides may achieve their goals. If the United States and international community are concerned about a possible military diversion, they should fulfill this concern through international supervisory mechanisms. However, they should also accept Iran’s legal demand which is the right to enrich uranium on its soil within the framework of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The balance between these two aspects will be the basis for a win-win game. This is the best solution to solve Iran’s nuclear standoff. The Americans will have to concede this inevitable situation since there is a logic behind Iran’s nuclear activities based on the IAEA safeguards regulations.
I think that we will be witnessing a turning point in the nuclear case during the New Year that the two countries step by step come to grips with the realities. On the Iran’s side, although the government resist, but sanctions are generally a challenge which may provide the grounds for the direct talks. I mean as sanctions expand, so does their economic impact. The final result will depend on the strength of preserving national unity and that how much the nuclear program is important in the domestic politics as a strategic and national issue assessed through a sound costs and benefits evaluation.
In my view the nuclear program has a strategic value for Iran and so requires great attention. Therefore, while current challenges will continue into coming years, Iran and the United States will be most probably engaged in competitive interaction and concede to certain facts.
On the United States’ side, it seems that the Americans have almost reached the conclusion that enriching uranium on Iran’s soil is something that cannot be reversed, but they try to get more bargaining power in the negotiations to impose tough monitoring system on Iran’s nuclear activities.
For this reason, I think the important issue at present is the issue of managing a new version of the Additional Protocol. Some experts in the United States maintain that the current version of the Additional Protocol is outdated going back to the late 1990s when experts were few and the Protocol has been as such formulated in too general terms. Thus, they insist that the Additional Protocol should be revised. I think this will be the main subject of bargaining in the future which the two sides will put the highest emphasis on “competitive interaction” and acceptance of the realities in a phase mode.
Q: How do you see the prospect of the nuclear standoff in the coming months?
A: Iran will continue to insist on enriching uranium on its soil. The Americans, on the other side, are not ready to accept it because they still think that sanctions will change Iran’s nuclear policy. From the US perspective, as long as the enrichment process has not accelerated in Iran, it means that Iran’s nuclear activities pose no immediate security threat to the United States. Recent reports by the Western sources stress that Iran will not be able to develop nuclear weapons before 2014 or so. In the absence of an immediate threat, Washington will undoubtedly go for more sanctions which will be a challenge to Iran.
I think that the pace of enriching uranium remains Iran’s trump card. Again if the Americans make sure that Iran has accelerated the enrichment process, then the pace of sanctions is sure to be reconsidered because time is not on their side. Anyway, the two countries will insist on their current positions and this will give rise to competitive interaction between Iran and the United States in which each party will try to outdo the other.
Q: What turn the new developments may take in the Iran-Arab and Iran-US relations?
A: The new developments will surely impact Iran’s relations with the Arab world. This could be both an opportunity and a challenge. For instance, if Iran fails to chart its future relations with the post-Mubarak government Egypt, the Americans and Israelis will take the initiative turning Iran’s opportunity to a challenge. Therefore, Iran should move fast and redefine its relations with the new government in Cairo. This is something that is happening now.
From a realist point of view, however, two important issues i.e. the Arab-Israeli peace process and Iran’s nuclear program, have the potentials of creating opportunity and establishing new rivalry between Iran and Egypt. Among the reasons the Egyptian public challenged the Mubarak regime was the country’s inactive position on the peace process. A nationalistic-ideological government in Egypt will surely seek more active role of Egypt in the peace process. On the other side, during past years and in the course of the regional political-security developments, Iran has established and developed a strong and specific approach in influencing the peace process. Now Iran and the new government in Egypt should harmonize their policies so that they could make a new coalition to deal with the peace process. If this is not to happen fast, then one should expect a new round of rivalry happening between Iran and Egypt.
Iran’s nuclear issue has also the same potential. Here again the empowerment of a nationalist government in Egypt can be either a challenge to Iran’s nuclear program or make way for new cooperation thereby an opportunity. For instance, the Egyptians have constantly tried to gain credit for the establishment of a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East which was first brought up by Iran in 1974. At the same time, Egypt’s view in this regard is close to Iran as the latter’s stance on the comprehensive nuclear disarmament in the region is capable of challenging the Israeli regime’s nuclear activities and putting pressure on this regime for signing the NPT. This can be a ground for advancing cooperation on different regional issues. I think it is in the interest of both countries and the region that Iran and Egypt redefine their relations in the course of the new developments.
Of course Iran’s rivals in the region i.e., the United States and Israel will do their best to prevent good Iran-Arab relations. Therefore, the regional developments will have a special effect on Iran’s relations with the United States intensifying the current rivalry. I think both countries will compete to gain more role and influence on the developments in the Arab world.
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