Saturday,18 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1240, (2 - 8 April 2015)
Saturday,18 August, 2018
Issue 1240, (2 - 8 April 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Lausanne leans towards deal

Talks between Western powers and Iran over the latter’s nuclear programme are edging discernably in the right direction, reports Camelia Entekhabifard from Lausanne

Al-Ahram Weekly

The nuclear talks between Iran and the United States, held in the historic Beau Rivage Hotel in Lausanne, Switzerland, commenced 28 March and ended Tuesday. The location perhaps was well chosen. The Treaty of Lausanne, in the aftermath of the Italian-Turkish war of 1911-1912, was signed at this magnificent hotel in July 1923.

Iran and the United States have not been at war, but there is no love lost between the two countries. The US hostage crisis in Tehran at the beginning of the 1979 Islamic Revolution could be considered a “cold war”.

Having enough to fuel hatreds, 10 years ago the matter of Iran’s nuclear programme added to existing tensions. Leaving past differences aside and focusing on nuclear talks was not easy at all.

From threatening to bomb Iran to US Secretary of State Kerry expressing his wish to “visit Tehran one day” is a turnaround indeed. An American observer told BBC senior correspondent Lyse Doucet that everything points the way to a significant improvement in relations between the two countries during the 16 months of President Hassan Rouhani being in office. Deal or no deal, even if nuclear talks continued at another date, spring marks a new start for both Washington and Tehran and an end to the freezing winter of mistrust.

Unable to set the clock back, what they have is the future and the continuation of talks. After weeks of intense negotiations and meetings, the two countries are at a stage where they need to clarify that good progress in the nuclear talks has been made. Thus, the self-imposed deadline of 31 March, chosen by Secretary Kerry and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohamed Javad Zarif last November in Vienna, when they agreed upon a second extension to talks.

An agreement that first proposed to reach a “framework agreement” and then gave way to a “mutual understanding” will now be a “general statement” on the ongoing success of negotiations in the past six months.

This “general statement” is certainly as important as a real deal, since melting the iceberg between Tehran and Washington in such a short time wasn’t easy, or assured.

An Iranian diplomat who requested anonymity said the Americans wanted a big show of publicity for an agreement, to justify progress before the US Congress. “But we can’t have such a big triumph here when in our country we are obliged to have only one final agreement; plus the hardliners can’t tolerate this closeness with the US,” the diplomat told Al-Ahram Weekly.

Only one agreement is what Ayatollah Ali Khamenei asked for and insisted upon. Publicly, Iran’s supreme leader asked negotiators to ensure no separation between the political and technical deals.

Yet this “general statement”, which may sound ephemeral, is critical in paving the road for a more comprehensive deal, due 1 July. The general statement makes it easier for negotiators to work on the details and outline issues to be included in the final document.

Mistrust played a major role in past failure in the talks. Further talks and greater closeness, which earns trust, can bring Iran closer to a deal. When Kerry or Iranians say the chances of reaching the deal is 50-50, half the requisite trust has been built. The parties simply need more time to build the other half.

The real deal is about Iran behaving differently and becoming a trusted partner for Western nations. A unique opportunity exists that may not be granted again, or become available to Iran or the US. Neither wants to let it go.

Fighting for the deal is the correct phrasing, both for Iran and the US. History shows that major events often happen quietly and secretly. We shouldn’t then surprised if in few years we learn that history was made at this low-key event in Lausanne, Switzerland, on 31 March. The Iranians are making themselves ready for a new chapter in Iranian-US relations, if the Americans are ready to do so too.

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