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The United States and Negotiations with Iran: From Delusion to RealitySalem-News.com
Interview with Mohammad Farhad Koleini, former Iranian Ambassador to Armenia & Senior Expert on Strategic Issues
(TEHRAN Iran Review) - Frequent announcements of readiness to negotiate with Iran by the American officials in their latest interviews and stances have been followed by a host of analytical reports both inside and outside the United States. Since Iran has not received any official request in this regard, the question is what are the main goals behind general and ambiguous positions taken on this issue by the American officials? Many questions have been also posed by the mass media as a result of the positions taken and analyses provided by the American authorities on Iran who asked for a variety of approaches to the Islamic Republic ranging from tougher sanctions to negotiations. In the following interview, Mohammad Farhad Koleini, a senior expert of strategic issues, analyzes the main reasons behind such positions and also assesses effective factors influencing them.
Q: What is your opinion about extension of sanctions against Iran just two days after reelection of Barack Obama as the president of the United States and what is the main goal behind the so-called “more for more” plan which has been proposed for lifting Iran sanctions?
A: Before answering your question, I must say that at present, the idea of negotiations with the United States is being raised without expert backing and simply on emotional basis by various media inside and outside Iran. I think there are a few points and several basic questions here. First, we must see how useful can possible talks between Iran and the United States be? The next important issue is the degree of Washington’s commitment to negotiations and whether the government of the United States is basically committed to Iran talks. On the other hand, “meeting,” “dialogue,” and similar terms have been major descriptors used to describe the contact and communications between Iran and the P5+1 group (including the US, the UK, France, Russia, and China, plus Germany). If you would remember, the negotiations between the two sides in the Switzerland city, Geneva, were later known as “Geneva talks.” Therefore, the most important issue in this regard is that the West should pay due attention to importance of negotiations and clarify what it exactly means by “negotiation.”
Two distinct paths have been delineated for interactions with Iran: firstly, continuation of past interactions between Iran and the P5+1 group and, secondly, the idea of independent negotiations [between Iran and the United States] directly, bilaterally, and with special focus on Iran's nuclear issue. Of course, some political figures in the United States have recently noted that certain important regional issues should be also included in the agenda of possible US talks with Iran.
It seems that in view of the latest official positions taken by Obama, no immediate and clear framework exists for the negotiations. The mere idea of negotiations is not new and had been also put forth in the past as well. Since the US behavior has not changed, I think no important development has taken place so far, and the fact that the US government has started feeling the necessity for talks with Iran is quite a different issue. The Iranian people as well as the Leader of Iran [Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei] have never and in no juncture of contemporary history favored talks which would mean surrender and will never allow negotiations to take place which would lead to ignoring Iran's national interests.
As put by the Leader, if any time in the future negotiations with the United States are perceived to be useful to the Iranian nation and Iran's national interests, the issue would be taken into consideration. It is a realistic provision to make any negotiation conditional on a basic change in the US behavior. In case of a clear, tangible and lasting change on the part of the United States, then the next set of questions should be answered: What issues should be raised during negotiations? To what extent can such negotiations help Iran to achieve its clear goals?
Unfortunately, various past experiences with regard to interactions between Iran and the United States in various fields, reveal a negative backdrop for the United States since the nationalization of the Iranian oil industry up to, and especially, following the victory of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. In fact, if the United States is actually trying to find a fair and equitable solution to interaction with Iran through negotiations, it should address the aforesaid questions on the basis of goodwill and in the light of the past lessons.
To prove its goodwill, the United States should be able to introduce necessary conditions and literature and also take preliminary steps. Otherwise, under conditions of massive sanctions against Iran, adopting general and ambiguous positions and, basically, any kind of negotiations will be doomed to failure from the very beginning.
Their new claims about proposing new conditions and coming up with “more for more” policy are more related to Iran's interactions with the P5+1 group. If they mean that Iran should prove more flexible, well, we are ready to be more flexible. I should note here that any time that the past Iranian governments started to appear more resilient in the face of the United States the opposite side has come up with a bigger demand and has made weak, worthless, and unreliable offers in return. This can no longer be defined within framework of a win-win policy. I think that under the present circumstances and using a stronger diplomatic effort, Iran will be able to formulate a win-win policy.
The US Secretary of State Mrs. [Hillary] Clinton recently stated that the United States is ready to immediately lift sanctions which have been imposed by Washington on Iran. If the United States is honest about this claim, it can prove it without negotiations. The United States can take preliminary steps and provide necessary conditions along with required literature for dialog by suspending or even lifting sanctions, thus, giving renewed impetus to negotiations over Iran's peaceful nuclear activities.
I should add here that the issue of negotiations between Iran and the United States are not simply limited to these two parties. Many countries are trying one way or another to influence this issue. Apart from announcing their relative agreement to direct talks between the two parties, the Russians have declared that their country is also interested in being kept abreast of the details of negotiations between Iran and the United States. Therefore, Moscow hopes that after a new balance of power is shaped in the region, it would be able to claim a fair share of the new regional balance. The Zionist regime of Israel is also trying to prevent and block the process of normalization of ties between Iran and the United States by any means possible.
On the other hand, the Arab states have been taking their own special approach to negotiations and normalization of relations between Iran and the United States. At the same time, the European Union and certain members of that union, especially Britain, have their own viewpoints about any form of interaction between Tehran and Washington. They believe that to normalize relations, these two countries should go through London.
At any rate, many conditions and components are effective in this regard of which the Americans are sure to be aware. From this standpoint, the United States officials should take these components and conditions into consideration. Therefore, achieving balanced and suitable conditions for negotiations is not solely dependent on Iran. They [the Americans] should first take convincing steps and achieve domestic and foreign consensus before entering into direct talks with Iran. Just in the same way that the Americans have tried to create negative consensus against Iran during past years, they should find a way to change their behavior and make up for past negative efforts. To prove their goodwill, the United States officials should do their best to provide necessary grounds and literature and take preliminary steps. Otherwise, taking general and ambiguous positions and, basically, any kind of negotiations will be doomed to failure under conditions of intensified sanctions.
Q: What is your opinion about the US Senate plan to further escalate sanctions against Iran, which has also considered exemptions and adjustments to the existing sanctions, following an interview by the US President Barack Obama in which he indicated his readiness to negotiate with Iran?
Today, many people and institutions in the United States, and even Mr. [Yukiya] Amano [Director General of International Atomic Energy Agency] have reached the conclusion that pressures have had no effect on Iran’s resolve. In the meantime, certain parties in the West are interested in keeping mounting pressure and sanctions on Iran in order to force the Iranian people to initiate protests against the government’s policies and disturb the political balance in the country. Mr. Obama and the US Congress cannot shun the responsibility for imposing illegal and unilateral sanctions against Iran. They have designed this path of action and it is for them to correct it.
They should note that sanctions have only increased hatred for the United States in the Iranian public opinion. Although sanctions may have caused problems for the country, the negative impact of sanctions has mobilized the public opinion in Iran in a totally opposite direction to what the Western countries intended.
Anyway, if Mr. Obama is honestly looking for a way out of the current situation and seeks to create new conditions, as a first step, he should change his attitude and approach to Iran from a purely security-based and military one to a totally economic approach. As it was officially announced in the past, the path to confrontation should be replaced with a new path which would end in mutual understanding. Iran’s abilities in the area of nuclear technology and mastering uranium enrichment process can be seen as an opportunity, not a threat, and as a new link in the chain of economic cooperation in energy market both at regional and global levels. At present, the United States, Russia and France are major players in the global market of enriched uranium. Iran’s entry into this market as a new capacity can be considered a new window of opportunity to improvement of relations with Iran. As a prelude, they should start with officially recognizing Iran’s right to enrich uranium, removing sanctions passed by the United Nations Security Council as well as unilateral and bilateral sanctions imposed on Iran by the European Union and the United States, boosting Iran’s interaction with International Atomic Energy Agency, providing Tehran with necessary guarantees for technological assistance in the field of nuclear technology, and finally, increasing cooperation with Iran in the uranium market in order to enable the country to meet its peaceful needs. The Americans should also avoid of interfering in Iran’s relations with the European Union, Russia, and China. If undertaken, this process can lay out a complete road map for further interactions with Iran.
Key Words: United States, Negotiations with Iran, Sanctions, P5+1 Group, Nuclear Issue, Regional Balance, Koleini
More By Mohammad Farhad Koleini:
*Republicans’ Political Trap for Obama: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Republicans-Political-Trap-for-Obama.htm
*US Diplomacy vs. Tel Aviv’s Adventurism: Who Is the Final Winner?: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/US-Diplomacy-vs-Tel-Aviv-s-Adventurism-Who-Is-the-Final-Winner-.htm
*The Mission of Iran’s Chairmanship of the Non-Aligned Movement: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/The-Mission-of-Iran-s-Chairmanship-of-the-Non-Aligned-Movement.htm