October 21, 2013

To Where Are Washington and Tehran Hurrying? And Why?

So, on October 17 in Geneva the negotiations of the “Six” on the Iranian nuclear program were concluded. As we have mentioned before, they have not led to agreements removing the question of the “Iranian atom” from the agenda of the international community. But this was expected.

Tehran has demonstrated a completely new approach, put forward new proposals to resolve the “nuclear issue”. That's the main thing. According to the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton, at the negotiations the parties managed to present their positions on a large number of questions in such detail as never before. Ashton also said that prior to the next round of negotiations there will be a meeting of nuclear scientists of the two sides to discuss their differences and determine practical steps.

Catherine Ashton: no alternative to negotiations
Catherine Ashton: no alternative to negotiations

New approaches started in the negotiations, both political and technical experiences with far-reaching consequences, show that in the “Iranian nuclear dossier” has been opened a new page. In these negotiations, Tehran proved its seriousness so powerfully, that the “Six” almost had no choice but to accept the Iranian offers as a basis for future meetings.

At all that, it is necessary to realize and accept the fact that the key to the Geneva round was still not so much the Iranian new compromise proposal, and not so much the willingness of the West to objectively assess them. The main, perhaps, was the desire of the parties for an early resolution of the problems around the “Iranian atom.”

The head of the Iranian delegation at the talks, Foreign Minister of Iran, Mohammad Javad Zarif said that “a lesson has been taught from the bitter experience with the introducing economic sanctions against Iran. They have not brought any benefit to either side, so we have taken into account this bitter experience, and we believe that the “Six” of international mediators must change approaches to the issue of Iran's nuclear program”.

Former Tehran’s intransigence, its excessive stubbornness, unwillingness to go, at least for a partial compromise, has turned into a deep and protracted social and economic crisis. But no less were political and financial losses of the West, whose policy in the Middle East without taking into consideration Iran, has reached a dead end.

A year ago, the parties could afford to delay the negotiation process, a manifestation of intransigence and legal casuistry. Today the situation has changed dramatically. Without a breakthrough in matters of “the Iranian nuclear dossier” Iran cannot be included in the Middle East peace process.

Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas, security guarantees of Arabian monarchies of the Persian Gulf — this is not a complete list of the most pressing issues for the international community, solution of which without Iran's direct participation in today's reality is simply impossible.

On the other hand, the pressure and hard domestic controversy in Iran around the course on the “rapprochement” with the West, extremely negative reaction of the “conservatives” to the “moderate” from the “government of reforms and hope”, make the President Zasan Rouhani and his team of associates make every effort to achieve concrete results in the negotiations with the “Six.”

Moderate President is for rapprochement with the United States and the West
Moderate President is for rapprochement with the United States and the West. IRNA

Results that could be presented to the Iranian people as a proof of the rightness of the proclaimed foreign policy. And it is necessary to hurry! Now, these days, the new Rouhani's Cabinet needs immediately to stop further decline of the economy, to stabilize and then to strengthen the national currency, to reduce the galloping inflation, in reality to raise the living standard of the people, to solve the sharpest problem of youth unemployment. Credibility, analysts say, to address these priorities is not more than six months. All these issues cannot be solved without removing the economic numerous bilateral and international sanctions. But without restoration of relations with the West, it is almost impossible to do this either.

In its turn, the restoration of relations with the United States and the West is impossible without real progress in solving the issue of the Iranian nuclear program. Achieving concrete progress in talks with the “Six” is also impossible without major concessions from Tehran.

It was this extremely sharp for both, Tehran and the West, objective need for an early agreement on the “Iranian atom” that led to “haste” with which the parties had been coming to the talks in Geneva. The pace of negotiations is really high; the upcoming next full-length round of talks is scheduled for November 7-8, actually in three weeks. At this, as it was reported earlier, Tehran wants to raise the level of the next round of negotiations with the “Six” to the ministerial. The Iranians very much want the Secretary of State and other Ministers to participate in the negotiations. By the standards of the talks between Iran and the “Six”, this is truly unprecedented.

Again and again the events convince us of the correctness of the forecast that in the medium term, Washington wants to withdraw from the Middle East. “Fruit and berry” and “flower” revolutions during the “Arab Spring” cost it too much. The region continues falling apart without a strong coalition, but without the participation of the USA it threatens to collapse into the abyss of uncontrolled chaos.

Tehran hopes to make the most of the developing situation to solve its own regional problems as well as to go out of the difficult economic situation by normalizing relations with the United States and the West. There are all the conditions for it. However, not everybody is happy about it...

But let's leave the political aspect for a minute and consider the technical issues of the negotiations. So, the “Six” insists on concluding with Iran a legally binding agreement, signed and sealed, said the Spokesman for the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Michael Mann.

The previously-mentioned “The End of an unnecessary crisis and the beginning of new horizons” plan, presented in the report of Mohammad Javad Zarif, included specific proposals which are really of a breakthrough nature. The essence of the plan can be summarized in four short, but truly revolutionary items:

Firstly. Tehran is willing to discuss tougher international control by unannounced inspections of nuclear facilities. But — in exchange for recognition of its right to peaceful nuclear research and recognition of its unconditional right to develop peaceful nuclear energy program.

Previously, Iranians strongly objected to IAEA's inspectors and experts' visiting some of them, in particular, the laboratory near Parchin. The IAEA and the USA suspected that this lab was working on neutron initiators, which are critically important in the manufacture of nuclear weapons. Iran kept brushing aside any suspicions, but did not let them to the object, explaining the refusal by saying that it was a military and top secret object, but at this not having anything to do with the nuclear program.

Secondly. Tehran is ready to suspend the process of uranium enrichment to 20 %. But — without giving up this work completely, as 20% Uranium is used for medical and scientific purposes.

Israel and the United States called this a dangerous level from the point of view of the ability to use this fuel for making nuclear weapons. This is not entirely true, but if to enrich the 372 kilograms of 20% uranium that Iran has, theoretically this fear has a right to exist. The highly enriched uranium as such is not a nuclear warhead, it still requires going a very long way, but Iran has decided to remove the problem, ensuring that in the future it is ready to enrich nuclear fuel to lower rates.

This would require that the Iranians should reconsider their reactors' processing parameters, make them work on the transition of existing and future plants to less enriched fuel, but in general, the problem is solvable.

At the time, Tehran research reactor TVR went through such modernization. Experts from Argentina reconfigured it from work with 93% uranium to 20% one.

Thirdly. Tehran is ready to give up the surplus of uranium enriched to 20%. But — without exporting it abroad and Iran agrees to international control over these excesses on the part of the IAEA inspectors.

Iran will not give away its accumulated reserves — this is its categorical demand. Apparently, its already accumulated fuel will initially be used for its intended purpose, and then it will be possible to upgrade the reactors. In a sense, Iran guarantees itself a normal uninterrupted work in case if the agreements have not been reached. On the other hand, it does have a fuel resource, which allows it to work for a few years, so the Iranians can afford to quietly get prepared for the modernization without disruption of existing programs.

Fourthly. Iran is ready to limit the number of centrifuges already available and to discuss with the international community a form of control over the plants in Fordo and Arak.

In exchange for these steps, Iran expects cancelling of economic sanctions. And it is ready for their stage-wise cancelling.

At the first stage — lifting of sanctions, and not all, but those that, firstly, were imposed on it by the Security Council and, secondly, most odd ones of the imposed unilaterally by the West in the commercial and financial sectors.

At the third stage, after a kind of “testing” forms and methods of international monitoring and unannounced inspections, but not later than eight months after the conclusion of the agreement with the “Six”, the abolition of the remaining unilateral sanctions imposed on the country by the USA and EU.

Deputy Foreign Minister of Iran, Abbas Araghchi considers the plan “logical, balanced and realistic”, as well as giving the parties an opportunity to make the first step out of the dead end in the nuclear negotiations.

Actually, through this plan Tehran by two-thirds covers the demands of the West regarding the Iranian nuclear program. During the Geneva talks, this became quite obvious.

Of course, such serious proposals need careful consideration. That is why the negotiators gave up specifics in the final statement having chosen for it quite sleek formulations. It is expected that the detail of the agreements and bargaining for specific concessions will take place at the next round of negotiations.

The “Six” and Iran at the negotiating table
The “Six” and Iran at the negotiating table

It can be assumed that one of the main issues in the following negotiations initiated by the Iranian side will be the issue of sanctions. But so far neither the EU nor Washington mention lifting the sanctions. According to the Spokesman for EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Michael Mann, if the parties come to an agreement, it will be possible to talk about changing the sanctions imposed on Iran by the Security Council in 2006-2007 and then repeatedly tightened. “As long as the reason for sanctions remains, they will remain”, — said Mann. — Only when we see real changes, we will be able to reconsider the sanctions regime”.

The same position is shared in Washington. “As long as there are negotiations, we will continue the economic pressure on Iran,” - Representative of the U.S. State Department has told reporters. The diplomat did not exclude that sanctions can be mitigated “in proportion to the proposals that Iran will put on the table.”

So, by all appearances, Iran and the “Six” are going as quickly as possible to end the years-long negotiations and to reach concrete solutions. If so, by the spring of 2014, the sanctions can be lifted. This raises a logical question: why such a rush? What has happened that the United States and Iran suddenly cast differences and go on an expedited basis to meet each other?

Iran's interest is clear — the sanctions have caused very serious damage to its economy. Tehran has learned to work in these conditions, but the problems that can undermine the internal stability of the country are growing. To the economy are being added quite powerful social difficulties, there is a very difficult problem of reconfiguring the political system and careful reconsideration of the interests and requirements of the younger generations of Iranians who do not like the hard fundamentalism of the existing system. Of course, we are not talking about restructuring, as it happened in the Soviet Union, but the Iranian establishment cannot continue to pretend that all is well. Therefore, lifting of sanctions gives Iran resources which it needs to carry out a wide range of economic, social and political reforms.

The USA's goals are also clear. Obama having bet on the “Muslim Brotherhood” at the beginning of the “Arab Spring”, as agents of his policy in the region, has suffered a crushing defeat. “Brothers” turned out to be politically impotent, dreamers and good for nothing managers. In all the countries where they have taken power or have access to it, they have failed completely. The answer was the return of the old elite and the rise of Obama's political opponents in the region.

Iran, in this case, is Obama's response to his political opponents. Quite a serious and effective response at that. The threat was taken seriously — in order to disrupt the emerging agreements between the USA and Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel were about to put the region on the brink of a full-scale conflict after the provocation in East Ghuta (Syria). Actually, even now that danger has not been fully eliminated, and this may explain the rush of the USA in the end of the negotiation process of the “Six” with Iran in Geneva.

The second problem that makes Obama go for urgent agreements with the Iranian leadership is Afghanistan. NATO troop withdrawal next year will inevitably result in the Taliban's coming to power. All attempts to negotiate with them have failed, the Taliban knows that after a year most of Afghanistan will be under its full control, and therefore it has nothing to negotiate about with the Americans. Years of war, billions of dollars and thousands of lives — all was for nothing!

Russia and its Central Asian allies are extremely worried about the situation evolving in Afghanistan and the Taliban coming to power. Neither Kyrgyzstan, nor Uzbekistan or Tajikistan can cope with them on its own. CSTO in this case is the only deterrent for the Taliban expansion to the North. Connecting Iran to the measures of containment seems more than reasonable and logical.

Obama's plan is simple and straightforward — the USA, leaving Afghanistan, releases its strength and at the same time binds Iran and Russia on Afghanistan by the need to confront the Taliban. So Obama needs a strong Iran, capable of simultaneously confronting its enemies in the region of the Western Asia and in the East — in Central Asia, and at this being a leader in the Persian Gulf. The task is multi-dimensional and complex.

Here the interests of the parties have coincided — now there is no point to pull the process of the settlement further.

Naturally, neither Israel nor Saudi Arabia will be happy with the existing situation, but this is also part of Obama's plan. He will bind up his opponents by the confrontation with Iran, and will free up resources to solve problems in other areas.

Here it's time to mention two more events in the political backstage of the Geneva talks, which are likely to have more than a serious impact on the further development of both, the negotiation process itself, and on Iran's relations with the West.

The agreement achieved in Geneva between Tehran and London on the appointment in a short time the charge d'Affaires and on possible reopening of embassies (now Tehran's interests in the UK are being represented by Switzerland, and London's interests in Iran — by Oman) in political terms, is much more serious than a simple normalization. London and Washington in the international arena have always acted in concord, and there is no doubt that this decision the Downing Street has agreed with the White House.

And since the decision did take place, with high probability we can say that the sensible part of the American political elite understands that today the key to restoring the balance of forces and interests in the Greater Middle East is direct agreements with Iran. But this part of the American political elite is well aware that in case of a sharp turn to the normalization of relations with Iran, it is possible that an all-powerful Israeli and Saudi lobby “will provide Obama’s administration with a lot of problems”, in the Congress included. On the eve of the Geneva talks, the White House even had to go to Congress with a call to postpone consideration of the bill on new sanctions aimed at the complete cessation of oil imports and the equally complete trade embargo. It is noteworthy that this bill is being supported by both, Republicans and Democrats. However, the strangeness of this alliance can be explained by the fact that at a different party affiliation of Congressmen, they are united by a close and long-standing relationship with AIPAC (The American Israel Public Affairs Committee) and the accelerating Saudi lobby.

The resistance to the negotiation process in the United States is so great that Congress had to intervene in the activities of the State Department towards Iran, and urged both, Obama, and Kerry not to abandon the threat of force as a means of communication with Iran. Especially, in the opinion of Congress, it is this tactic that has brought historic success in the liquidation of chemical weapons in Syria and in the Syrian issue in general. What is happening in Congress and the White House is a clear reflection of what is happening today in the Middle East.

Israel, as always, is against
Israel, as always, is against

And the second event. October 15, the day before the start of negotiations in Geneva, the Israeli “narrow security cabinet” held a special meeting, during which unanimously adopted a statement saying that “there appeared an opportunity to achieve a genuine political solution which will put an end to Iran's military nuclear development. For this it is necessary that the international community was slow to loosen political and economic pressure on Iran.”

But even more interesting things said a bit later Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the opening of the Knesset’s winter session. His words, about “the Iranian economy is on the verge of collapse”, and that “it is necessary to strengthen sanctions against Tehran” — in principle could have been omitted, because none of his speeches can do without those statements. But the words that “the position of many Arab states on a number of key issues coincides with the Israeli one” and “We are with them on the same side of the front line on the issue of Iran's nuclear program” — are more than serious. In fact this is an official recognition of the anti-Iranian coalition of Arab monarchies and Tel Aviv, and a declaration of war on the USA and Europe’s efforts to normalize relations with Iran.

Therefore, in the nearest future from this coalition we should expect desperate attempts to derail the negotiations in Geneva, to break them by any means, up to information and political provocations.