Some very interesting news about Iran has come out of London. At the talks on the Iranian nuclear problem between the P5+1 (permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) and Tehran’s representatives scheduled for February 26 in Almaty, the leading world powers are supposedly prepared to offer Iran concessions in return for steps to curb its nuclear program in accord with earlier demands. “We will take an offer with us which we believe to be a substantial and serious offer. This is an offer which we think has significant new elements in it,” the Reuters news agency quoted a diplomatic source from one of the P5+1 international mediators as saying. “Diplomats are committed to finding a diplomatic solution, but the government of Iran really has to show that it’s doing what it says it’s doing.”
The West has never before offered initiatives aimed at resolving Iran’s nuclear program peacefully. They have always accused Iran of increasing its nuclear capabilities and developing nuclear weapons. The Persian Gulf region is under the constant oversight of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers from the United States, which threatens the Iranians with all kinds of penalties if they do not stop what the Americans believe are efforts to develop nuclear weapons. Then suddenly there is this unexpected “message” to Tehran, although currently it is just a news report quoting an anonymous source.
But a careful analysis of Washington’s latest maneuvering over Iran suggests that US Secretary of State John Kerry was the first to float a trial balloon in Tehran’s direction. During his initial press conference as Secretary of State, he demagogically urged Iran to make the right decision on its nuclear program. The Secretary said how relations develop between the West and Iran is entirely up to Tehran. If Iran decides to continue expanding its nuclear program, new sanctions will be imposed on it and the country will “face increased isolation.” Kerry stressed, however, that the United States is prepared to resolve the matter diplomatically if Iran gives a clear accounting of its nuclear program at the upcoming talks in Kazakhstan.
It is quite obvious that an effort is being made to address Iran’s nuclear program in separate negotiations between Washington and Tehran. It is also obvious that these talks will be held behind the backs of Russia and China and the entire international community without concern for their interests. In conducting one-on-one negotiations, the United States is trying to twist Iran’s arm to benefit itself. And it must be said that Washington has a great deal of experience in that kind of negotiation — suffice it to recall the Camp David Accords. Those talks were conducted behind the backs of the entire international community. They did not bring peace to the Middle East, and the negotiations led to a series of wars and conflicts in the region.
It must be said that Moscow is following Washington’s diplomatic maneuvers closely and is taking appropriate stock. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Russia is not opposed to a bilateral dialogue between the United States and Iran on the nuclear issue, but it believes that the dialogue must be completely transparent. “We are not opposed to the dialogue, but we would like it to be done in a transparent manner. That means we would like to know the substance of any agreements in order to be sure that nothing is being done at Russia’s expense and to the detriment of Russia’s interests,” the diplomat said. He noted that Washington has not yet agreed to hold a direct dialogue with Tehran. Ryabkov stressed that “no one is abandoning the P5+1 [the international mediators], and it is the approved format.”
Ryabkov also spoke at length about the upcoming P5+1 talks with Iran, which he feels will not yield a breakthrough. However, Washington is hoping that Tehran is better prepared for a dialogue: “We hope that Iran will come to Almaty better prepared to work out a common platform for reaching a resolution and not just repeat positions that are already well known.”
Ryabkov says that our position in Almaty will essentially be a repetition of our previous stance in terms of the outcome — what we expect from the negotiations process. But how it is configured, our approach, the nuances, the emphasis and the substance will be different.
Moscow feels it is doing this in order to stimulate the process, but it will not be offering radical new proposals. The international community must find a solution that restores trust in the purely peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program. There are several ways of doing that; the sequence of steps and the tactics of moving towards the goal are important, as are mutual concessions. “There will be no breakthroughs, no comprehensive solutions or sensational outcomes from the standpoint of a settlement, but if we make any tangible progress in the right direction that alone would be sufficient to say that the Almaty round was not in vain,” Ryabkov said.
On the other hand, Iran’s nuclear program is continuing, of course, because Tehran knows full well what the pledges and promises of the West and its envoys in the person of IAEA representatives are worth. Iran is systematically accumulating nuclear material, and the Natanz and Fordo facilities are continuing to operate. Iran gave notice not long ago that it intends to install a new generation of centrifuges. That threw the West into hysterics because it supposedly runs counter to Security Council and IAEA Board of Governors resolutions.
The issue is a purely peaceful nuclear development program, however, which the UN has given all countries the right to have, including Iran. That makes the situation very interesting. The IAEA considers it a plus when European and Asian countries or Japan build nuclear power plants and work to develop peaceful nuclear energy. But as soon as Iran started building a nuclear plant in Bushehr with Russian help and began producing nuclear material for Tehran University’s reactor, which is operated exclusively for peaceful purposes, there were immediate accusations that international laws were being violated. Everyone knows that the full commissioning of the Bushehr nuclear power plant has been postponed several times because powerful hacker attacks prevented the plant from starting operation. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out exactly who is behind these attacks.
So the background for the negotiations in Almaty is less than favorable; therefore we need not be highly experienced specialists to predict the outcome. This time, however, the following points are of defining importance for Russia. First of all, the talks must have an agenda and not simply be a statement of positions. There must be an intent to reconcile the positions. The parties must move to a true exchange of views on what the agreements need to include: what needs to be replaced and what needs to be captured from the standpoint of balancing interests. Second, it is important to Russia and the entire international community that the process continue.
Ryabkov believes there must no more hiatuses between talks like the recent one. “We are currently in a situation where, despite the magnitude of the problem, we are only engaged in negotiations for 20 hours out of the year. But that is totally unrealistic given the nature of the issues and the low level of trust. It’s unacceptable. If the opportunity arises for a more in-depth expert study of various issues after Almaty, we definitely need to take advantage of it before the next full round of talks. What we need to do now is work harder at pursuing all avenues and make at least some progress on this very complex issue.”
Viktor Mikhin is a columnist for New Eastern Outlook