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03/03/12

What the Iranian Nuclear Issue Needs

By Mohammad Farhad Koleini, Former Iranian Ambassador to Armenia & Expert on Strategic Issues
Source: Iranian Diplomacy (IRD); Translated By: Iran Review

Innovation, Appropriate Interaction, Equal Flexibility

Today, we can identify three approaches to resolving Iran's nuclear issue. The first approach is that of diplomacy. In the current circumstances, it seems that this approach is gradually opening its way and gaining momentum after the agreement to pursue bilateral negotiations on the issue. The diplomatic approach is defined in terms of strategic perspective and efforts to find a framework within which the sides involved should arrive at a mutual and comprehensive understanding and change the previous policies.

The current controversy over Tehran’s nuclear programme is characterized by such factors and developments as the “step-by-step plan” and Iran's relative readiness for its implementation, the intensification of Western unilateral sanctions, the Israeli regime’s threats to take military action, Iran's response to these threats, the messages and letters sent to Tehran, the unveiling of Iran's technical advancements in building nuclear fuel rods, the plans about negotiations between the Islamic Republic and the P5+1 group, the trips by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) envoys to Iran and their talks to the Iranian authorities, the West’s limited optimism and positive response to Iranian about nuclear negotiations, the IAEA's February 2012 report and finally the repetitive discussion of Western concerns about Iran's attitude towards the agency’s expectations.

Along this course, we are witnessing different approaches to Iran's nuclear programme within the P5+1 group. First, given the Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s recent stance on the issue as well as the fact that he is engaged in campaigning for presidential elections, it appears that Tehran’s nuclear issue has a special status, which is why Putin is trying to criticize the Western behaviour and in fact show his objection to the West’s approach towards and treatment of the Iranian nuclear activities.

On the other hand, one is witnessing China’s moves and policies in this regard. Chinese officials paid a visit to Iran recently, after which Iran immediately responded to the EU foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton’s, letter. Following the trip, Beijing raised a few critical points about the Western attitude towards diplomatic arrangements and dialogue between the two major sides and called for more interaction between the Islamic Republic and the IAEA. Given these postures, one can almost safely say that China feels necessary in these sensitive circumstances to play a more active and assertive role, and thus vehemently advocates a diplomatic solution to the issue.

However, the satisfaction and optimism of US officials about Tehran’s reply - which were reflected in Hilary Clinton’s remarks accompanied by Ashton’s cautious stance - show that there is a difference of attitude between US and EU officials towards how to resolve Iran's nuclear standoff and pursue negotiations on it. With this in mind, one should not forget that Omani authorities are in contact with their Iranian counterparts while Tehran consults with Moscow over various regional issues.

The expression of regret and adoption of unprofessional positions by certain Western officials following the latest IAEA report were arguably unreasonable and based solely upon media speculations. In any case, any type of strategic dialogue, which has been under way over Iran's nuclear programme for many years, requires a precise modality plan and a long-term perspective. Indeed, this is the central function of diplomacy and exactly what it seeks to achieve, that is, taking advantage of the proper conditions to initiate equal interaction and create equal opportunities.

The second approach is that of conflict and challenge. Along this course, we are witnessing the intensification of Israel’s rhetoric of security and threat against the Islamic Republic of Iran. Such an issue manifests itself in two areas. In one way, since the Zionist regime is accused of terrorist acts against Iranian nuclear scientists, it sought to change the circumstances via scenario-building and propaganda-spreading while trying to tarnish the image of the Islamic Republic in the global public opinion. This is why it is pursuing numerous scenarios in the Republic of Azerbaijan or some other East Asian countries.

In addition, the Israeli regime is simultaneously highlighting the allegation that Iran is pursuing arbitrary measures in its nuclear bid and thus trying to portray itself as the nuclear watchdog of gendarme of the region. It is also striving to tout itself as a credible military threat against the Islamic Republic while manipulating the Western tendency to return to a point of balance through undersigning the significance of ramping up sanctions against Tehran. It was in this context that the debates among different Israeli officials about launching a military strike against Iran's nuclear facilities took place. It seems that the US statesmen do not want to clearly accompany the Zionist regime in its belligerent policy towards Tehran, which is why they made several trips to Tel Aviv and tried to convey their differing view on Iran to Israeli leaders. The recent visits to Tel Aviv by General Martin Dempsey, the US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Tom Donilon, the Obama administration’s National Security Advisor, were all serving such an end. Notably, there appears to be a low likelihood of military conflict with Iran as Tehran has made it clear to the United States that it will respond to threat by threat and to reconciliation by reconciliation and that acting in accordance with the Israeli scenario will lead to a great tragedy for the West.

The third approach is that of sanctions and deterrence. Along this line, the West has endeavoured to boost its bargaining power in the current circumstances by ratcheting up sanctions against the Islamic Republic and thus promote its position in relation to Tehran in the possible negotiations in the future. This is mainly because any plan or arrangement that may provide an opportunity for balanced and equal interaction will be contingent upon the West’s retreat from its positions. Within such a context, the West will define its point of retreat so as to enable it to preserve a superior position in the next potential nuclear talks without having to offering any concessions or making any compromises. This is why the West is blindly intensifying its sanctions against Iran. Of course, this is a double-edged sword and thus does not have a single winner. The continuation of this policy, namely the policy of closed doors, will culminate in changes of strategic proportions in foreign policy.

Concluding these three possibilities, one should argue that the IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano’s report and its inspectors’ visits to Tehran can have a very important part in preparing the ground for negotiations, as the agency is responsible for fulfilling a balancing and moderating role in the controversy. As a result, we witnessed after the recent negotiations in Tehran that the agency made every attempt to act on the basis of the Additional Protocol without arriving at an understanding with Iran or agreeing to a modality scheme for its measures. Needless to say, Iran has not ratified the Additional Protocol and therefore it does not have to implement its terms. Accordingly, Iranian leaders believe that any type of interaction over Tehran’s nuclear programme with the International Atomic Energy Agency should take place within the framework of bilateral agreements in order to succeed, and the West should thoroughly understand that Iran is not supposed to pay the price of the West’s desire to save face and maintain its image with regards to the Iranian nuclear activities. The West, to put it otherwise, should understand that it ought to demonstrate a decent degree of flexibility in order for Iran’s nuclear dispute to be settled.

The Islamic Republic has set its red line not at the peaceful of nuclear energy, but at the construction and use of atomic weapons, which is why it is supporting nuclear non-proliferation and a region free from nuclear weapons. It is important to assess the situation from this perspective. It seems that the Islamic Republic has demonstrated its ability to make progress and develop its nuclear programme. The fact that Iran announces it will try to change the heart of Tehran Research Reactor in the next step has a serious and great meaning. It is also emphasizing that the West should not force Tehran to move in a one-way route and prevent the destructive game of a third party.

This said, in the eye of some elements in the West, Iran’s move towards full command of nuclear technology is interpreted as crossing the threshold, and therefore they strive to force Iran into moving backward by keeping it at the nuclear threshold. Such a view is held by propagandistic circles in the West, which to define Iran’s peaceful nuclear drive in a negative manner and in terms of developing unconventional weapons. The Islamic Republic, however, views the issue of attaining power and making progress in its nuclear initiative not from a military perspective, but in the framework of civilian utilization.

The Islamic Republic has a strong logic and strategic rationality. The Secretary of Iran’s Supreme Council of National Security moves ahead in this course. The issue of “guaranteeing” in adopting various approaches is of great importance for Tehran while it does not allow the frightening shadow of cold war to loom over the region. Iran considers the advancement of positive conditions as its roadmap and will not tolerate adventurism.

In these circumstances, it seems that the West needs, as stressed before, to rethink and reconsider how to exercise diplomacy towards the Iranian nuclear programme. Any escalation of belligerent rhetoric and deterioration of conditions as well as each side’s interpretation of the situation can darken the political record of the West in the eye of the Islamic Republic and lead to the latter to revise and jeopardize all its economic and political relations with the whole West. From this perspective, innovation, appropriate interaction, equal flexibility, and creation of more opportunities are some of the more important factors that can determine the development of future conditions for useful and effective negotiations.

More By Mohammad Farhad Koleini: Bonn Conference: A Security-Political Approach

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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