After three rounds of fruitless talks and a subsequent eight-month interregnum, Secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council (SNSC) Saeed Jalili and the European Union's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton met in the Kazakh city of Almaty on February 26-27, 2013, to try their chance one more time.
Although none of the two parties have revealed the details of the negotiations after the talks were over, their positive comments have led most analysts to be optimistic about the results of negotiations between Tehran and the P5+1 group - comprising the United States, Britain, France, Russia, and China, plus Germany. Iranian Diplomacy has reviewed this issue in the following interview with the analyst of international issues, Hassan Beheshtipour.
Q: Iran and the P5+1 have held their new round of negotiations in the city of Almaty in Kazakhstan. What is your opinion about the outcomes of the meeting?
A: It seems the negotiations have been a step forward and, as put by [Iranian Foreign Minister] Mr. [Ali Akbar] Salehi, they can be considered a turning point in the course of negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 group. This issue can be explained from a number of viewpoints. Firstly, each negotiating party has presented the opposite party with clear-cut proposals and both parties have had clearly positive viewpoints. There have been, however, some differences over small details which are to be discussed again before the next meeting [between Iran and the P5+1] convenes on the scheduled date. The second reason for such assumption is that the Western side has apparently changed its policy and has corrected its previous proposals. That is, [in this round of talks, the West] has not insisted on issues which are not basically logical. [They have come to realize that] their past arguments were not practical because they had asked Iran to shut down its nuclear facility at Fordow. However, if they want Iran to stop enriching uranium to 20-percent level, Fordow can still continue to operate and enrich uranium at a lower level, say, 5 percent. Therefore there is no actual need to close down the Fordow facility.
During past negotiations, the West urged Iran to firstly, suspend enriching uranium to 20-percent level, secondly, transfer all the 20-percent enriched uranium in its possession to a third country and, thirdly, shut down the Fordow facility. However, Fordow is under supervision of the inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Iran has no reason to close it. Therefore, the West should have moved in another direction in order to offer more realistic proposals. The realistic proposal is that if Iran agreed to temporarily suspend uranium enrichment to 20-percent level, enrichment at Fordow or Natanz nuclear facilities would be automatically stopped and the Fordow facility could continue to operate by producing uranium which would be enriched to the level of 3.5- or 5-percent. [During the Almaty talks] the West has given up its past insistence on this issue and the Western negotiators said nothing about the need to close Fordow down, with their main argument being about the necessity for Iran to suspend 20-percent enrichment.
Another issue which is of high concern here is that Iran possesses a certain amount of enriched uranium. However, Iran has converted most of its enriched uranium to powder form to be used in making fuel plates, and that change is basically irreversible.
These are issues which should make the West change its approach to Iran. When it came to the quid pro quo that the West should give Iran in return, they simply noted that [in return for the suspension of uranium enrichment by Iran] the Western countries would lift the sanctions on Iran's passenger planes. At present, however, according to a report by the Associated Press, the Western side has come up with new proposals saying that part of the existing sanctions on Iran's petrochemical industry as well as sanctions on bank transactions will be removed. They have also stated that the current restrictions on trading Iran's oil in return for gold and other precious metals will be removed. If this report is true, it clearly proves that during negotiations [in Kazakhstan], the West has modified its past positions.
Here, Iran is expected to show more cooperation and move in the direction of giving a positive answer to this positive step [by the P5+1]. Iran has apparently presented its own package of proposals, though its details have not been revealed by the Iranian officials yet. However, since the Western negotiators have not rejected Iran's proposals and have noted that they would go through them, the two packages probably contain overlapping proposals. When each of the negotiating parties sees positive reaction on the other side, it feels obligated to take new positive steps.
Q: As you said, both parties' approaches have been quite positive. However, neither side has so far revealed any details about their proposals. Why, do you think, the details of proposals are kept secret?
A: It is a totally common way to prevent media hype. In some cases, such media hype will influence the overall process of the negotiations before they reach a final conclusion. Israelis are among the staunchest opponents of a serious agreement between Iran and the P5+1 group. As soon as they find a subject for propaganda, and given the high influence that they sway on the global media, they try to create media hype and achieve their goals through it. By doing this, they will have a good opportunity to barrage the entire negotiations with a heavily negative propaganda campaign and influence their possible results. They may even succeed to prevent both parties from achieving a final agreement because negotiator may be influenced by the general atmosphere outside the negotiations. Therefore, the main reason why neither side has so far said anything about the details of the proposals is that they want to preclude such propaganda hype by the media and only reveal the details once they have forged a final and conclusive agreement.
Q: Concurrent with the negotiations in Kazakhstan, the US Congress passed new sanctions against Iran. Do you think that the positive approach which was followed [by both negotiating parties] in Kazakhstan would be influenced by the Congress measure?
A: This was one of the mistakes that the US Congress has made by far. The US Congress is under the heavy influence of the pro-Israeli lobby. The pro-Israeli lobby, both in and out of the United States, is vehemently opposed to any agreement between Iran and the P5+1. As soon as they see a slight progress in the process of the negotiations, they plan new measures. The pro-Israeli lobby claims that by doing so, it is trying to put more pressure on Iran in order to increase the United States' bargaining power. The reality, however, is that they do this to obstruct the process of negotiations. By imposing new sanctions, they want to show that the situation is not improving and the negotiating parties are not any closer to mutual understanding. It seems, however, that this is not the policy favored by the [US President] Mr. [Barack] Obama and his team, but such measures are spearheaded by the US Congress which is heavily influenced by the pro-Israeli lobby.
Q: [The Iranian Foreign Minister] Mr. [Ali Akbar] Salehi has noted that the proposal offered by the United States during the latest round of negotiations has been different from the past. Does his position mean that Iran only cares for the approach taken by the US government and does not consider the Congress' measures important?
A: At any rate, the US Congress works like a pressure lever. However, the final decision is the final result of decisions made by various divisions of the US government. The United States does not have a unified system of government. The Congress does not endorse anything that Obama proposes and vice versa. In reality, the final decision is a result of the decisions which are taken at the US Congress and the White House combined with the impact of influential lobbies. Iran takes account of this issue. However, those who want to see a solution to this problem pay more attention to positive points. Of course, there are politicians in the United States who are seeking a peaceful solution to reach an agreement with Iran. We must wait and see what would be the final result of their interactions.
Q: What factors may have led to the current change in the US approach as described by the Iranian officials?
A: The Americans have lowered their demands, on the one hand, while showing readiness to give more in return, on the other hand. This shows that their approach is positive. When the opposite party modified its illogical demands in order to pave the way for an agreement, and also comes up with more suitable proposals in return for what it expects, the difference will be seen. Of course, Iran still has objections because the Americans have imposed sanctions and are now using those sanctions as bargaining chip in negotiations with Iran. However, we must be realistic. At present, the Americans have modified and adjusted their illogical demands and have gotten closer to Iran's views. They have also offered a better quid pro quo. Nonetheless, they have not yet taken steps which Iran wishes, including recognition of the Islamic Republic's right to enrich uranium. This Gordian knot should be cut somewhere. All those who want this knot be cut, should be optimistic and put their trust in negotiations.
Q: What is the outlook for future negotiations [between Iran and the P5+1]?
A: During negotiations in Almaty, the two sides moved in the direction of strengthening their interactions. Since Almaty meeting, a new form of interaction has come into being which has provided a new mechanism for achieving new agreements. This interaction has created an atmosphere which has raised hope in the possibility of using the aforesaid mechanism for achieving final agreements, provided that both sides show respect for each other's red lines. On the other hand, they should recognize their interests and show interest in solving the [nuclear] issue. Iran's nuclear issue is ten years old and further prolongation of negotiations will be undesirable for both of them.
*A researcher, documentary producer, and expert on nuclear issues, Hassan Beheshtipour was born on June 22, 1961 in Tehran. He received his BA in Trade Economics from Tehran University. His research topics span from US and Russian foreign policy to the Ukrainian Orange Revolution.
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