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Only public pressure can ensure west negotiates with Iran in good faith

Source: CASMII

On Saturday 14th April, The Islamic Republic of Iran and the P5+1 (Permanent members of the UN Security Council + Germany) met for the first time in more than 14 months in the Turkish city of Istanbul. These talks provided the first opportunity to defuse tensions that had been rapidly rising over the last few months due to the aggressive imposition of unilateral western sanctions on Iran’s central bank and an oil embargo as well as repeated threats of military action, which are all illegal under international law and the UN charter.

Despite the ruling of the US National Intelligence Estimates that Iran does not have a nuclear weapons programme and despite the US Defence Secretary, Leon Panetta’s clear announcement that Iran has not decided to build nuclear weapons, Western rhetoric accusing Iran of seeking nuclear weapons has continued leading to the imposition of draconian economic sanctions by the Western alliance in addition to the illegitimate UN Security Council resolutions against Iran.

Supported by the Non-Aligned Movement, comprising the majority of world nations, Iran has denied and responded to all such allegations and insisted repeatedly that its nuclear programme is solely for peaceful purposes permitted under the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

The West’s unfounded accusations and dangerous intransigence against Iran, prodded by Israel, has prompted Dr Mohammad ElBaradei, the former Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency, to state in his memoir that the US is not seeking a negotiated settlement and is using the Iranian nuclear issue as a pretext for regime change. Vladimir Putin, the Russian president elect, too has expressed the same concern; Russia and China have both denounced the West’s unilateral sanctions against Iran as illegal and illegitimate.

Given the legacy of the illegal invasion of Iraq under a false pretext, the West has come under pressure from the international public opinion for a peaceful resolution of the nuclear standoff with Iran. Moreover, the Western oil embargo is not just hurting the Iranian people but also the fragile Western economy which has seen a 20% rise in the price of oil since last December. The stakes therefore are high on both sides.

It is in this context that there seemed to be a change from the previous failed attempts at negotiations, indicated in the positive tone and encouraging statements from various diplomats involved in April 14 negotiations.

Baroness Catherine Ashton, the EU Foreign Policy Chief and P5+1 representative, in her plenary speech described the talks as “constructive and useful”, stating that she recognised Iran’s right to a peaceful nuclear program. Ashton said that the future talks should be guided by a “principle of step by step approach and reciprocity” and the “key basis” for a future agreement should be the NPT.

The two sides agreed to meet again on the 23rd of May in Baghdad to start technical discussions and take concrete steps to resolve the issues of concern from both sides.

To use the NPT rather than the illegitimate UN Security Council resolutions against Iran as the “key basis” of agreement would indeed be a huge shift from the past Western statements of threats and unreasonable one sided demands from the Islamic Republic. Iran has stated from the outset that it wants nothing more and nothing less than what is permitted to it under the NPT. Iranian officials have suggested a parallel approach of the West recognising Iran’s rights and Iran cooperating on providing more transparency.

Between 2003 and 2005 Iran took many voluntary steps including suspending enrichment of uranium and implementing the Additional Protocol. These serious concessions from Iran were not reciprocated by the West’s insistence that Iran gave up its right to enrichment and reporting of Iran’s file to the Security Council. The process of negotiations therefore failed.

An approach based on the framework of the NPT has every chance of succeeding and satisfying the requirements of both sides. Furthermore a step by step approach with genuine “reciprocity” whereby all of Iran’s voluntary measures are rewarded in kind, has a much higher chance of succeeding given the lack of trust between the two sides.

However, it is only the continued pressure of international public opinion against the hawkish policies of the Israeli lobby and neoconservatives in the western political establishment that can ensure that Ashton’s words are not just rhetoric and the West would in fact negotiate with Iran in good faith.

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