Friday,21 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1238, (19 - 25 March 2015)
Friday,21 September, 2018
Issue 1238, (19 - 25 March 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Seizing the moment, making history

The Iran nuclear talks are not about who wins or who loses, but the normalisation of relations between Tehran and the West, writes Camelia Entekhabifard from Lausanne

Al-Ahram Weekly

In Lausanne, where the P5+1 nuclear talks with Iran are ongoing, the peace and serenity of the environment, the beauty of Lake Geneva, are inspiring negotiators to work better.

Smiling diplomats have left no doubts that the two sides are willing to seize the moment and make history.

After a year and a half of intense and at times stressful bargaining, the time has come for the world to know whether the negotiations have proved successful or not.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohamed Javad Zarif expressed his hope that a deal will be reached by the deadline of Monday, 16 March. But what constitutes the bottom line of the negotiations is very different for the two sides.

Still after four days working so hard it appears that both parties are responding to the fact with appropriate seriousness. Western-educated Iranian diplomats familiar with Western culture and language have added personality to this round of negotiations in a way that American and Western diplomats felt more comfortable with.

What is clear to both sides is that if these talks fail it would be hard to imagine the present cordiality or friendliness being reached again in the near future. Negotiators have established a good rapport and have many common interests, but all this could be lost if the current momentum is wasted.

If by end of this week Iran and the US reach a political and technical framework agreement, allowing them to continue talks in the coming months, there is still a long way to go to close the gaps remaining between them before 1 July. That date is the official deadline for negotiators to reach a comprehensive deal. It has already been extended twice and cannot be extended further.

A framework agreement is a shortcut to prove to opponents of the talks that a year and a half of negotiations and extensions, and all the money spent, hasn’t been wasted.

For the US president, the opposition includes the Republican-led US Congress, which is eager to impose new sanctions on Iran. In Tehran, in a different way, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has risked his whole reputation by publicly supporting the nuclear negotiators and applauding their efforts. Their failure would jeopardise the supreme leader’s authority among hardliners who found negotiations with the US intolerable.

In addition to these strictures, patience is wearing thin on both sides, despite the smiles, motivating negotiators to work harder to meet the 16 March deadline for an interim agreement.

While a comprehensive deal hasn’t yet been achieved, much has changed over the last 18 months. The trust that has been built between Iran and the US can rightly be seen as a crowning and historic achievement after 35 years of mutual animosity.

If the United States publicly and openly shifted its foreign diplomacy in the Middle East to give Iran more presence and credit, Iran also showed the US it could be trustworthy if granted an opportunity to prove it.

The opportunity given to Iran to support Iraqi troops required Tehran to be more transparent and prove to the world especially its suspicious Arab neighbours that Iran can be a useful partner.

I heard from a source close to the negotiators that Khamenei was also pleased when he learned that President Barack Obama and his administration boycotted Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s speech in the US Congress, only reading the transcript.

This kind of achievement, the building of trust, although hidden from the public eye, is what has paved the way for the upcoming major nuclear deal. Indeed, it is no longer important who lost or who won. The deal constitutes the normalisation of future relations between the two countries and Iran’s return to the fold of the international community.

Should we expect the next Nobel Peace Prize to be given to US Secretary of State John Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohamed Javad Zarif, for helping to sustain peace in world?

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