Sunday,19 August, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1143, 11 - 17 April 2013
Sunday,19 August, 2018
Issue 1143, 11 - 17 April 2013

Ahram Weekly

Negotiating with Iran

Iran seems to have decided that direct negotiations with the US will be necessary if it is to gain its desired security guarantee, writes Camelia Entekhabifard

Al-Ahram Weekly

What should Iranian politicians, under pressure to give up the country’s uranium-enrichment programme in exchange for a partial lifting of sanctions, be best advised to do?

One possible answer came this week when Alaeddin Boroujerdi, chair of the National Security and Foreign Policy Commission of the Iranian parliament, told a state TV presenter on 6 April that the offer presented in the two-day talks in Almaty in Kazakhstan was “ridiculous” because Iran was being asked to shut down all its enrichment activities in exchange for the lifting of just a tiny part of the international sanctions, such as those on gold imports.

According to Mehdi Ghazanfar, Iran’s minister for mining and trade, Iran lost some $100 billion of revenue from oil exports this year as a result of the sanctions. While Iran’s negotiators and the country’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will have borne this in mind in negotiations with the so-called P5+1 group, made up of the five members of the UN Security Council and Germany, over the country’s nuclear programme, little has been achieved thus far even if both parties made it clear that they were willing to meet in the near future.

Said Jalili, Iran’s chief negotiator, and Catherine Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy chief, confirmed after two days of intense and difficult discussions that they would remain in touch for future cooperation.

In a press conference on Saturday, Jalili indicated that Iran would not give up its right to enrich uranium. Iran is signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and it has the right to enrich uranium on its soil for peaceful purposes. However, the major powers suspect Iran of using this right to create a covert nuclear weapons programme, and as a result have imposed the toughest sanctions in the nation’s history.

The sanctions have shaken the Iranian economy, and Iran is looking for a solution out of the deadlock that it can justify to domestic public opinion. After years of the government exaggerating the nuclear project, cloaking it in nationalist rhetoric, public expectations have risen to a level where Iran’s rulers can no longer simply shift their policy in response to foreign pressures.

Iran has also come to the conclusion that negotiations with the western powers are useless without the United States’s approval, and it should not come as a surprise if Iran makes an effort to meet with its American counterparts soon after the country’s elections in June.

Khamenei admitted on 21 March that he was not optimistic about talks with the US, but he added that he was not against them either. It appears that he is willing to take a chance and sit with the Americans face to face. But he also sees himself as being too senior to personally lead the negotiations, so it is likely that Iran’s next president, to be elected in June, will take the lead.

Clearly, Iran does not wish to be perceived as an irrational state like North Korea, and returning to the international community is a goal of the leadership. But more than just a lifting of the sanctions, Iran also needs to feel welcome in the international community and to feel convinced that the latter is not aiming for regime change.

In the light of this, it may appear strange that Iran cast a negative vote on the UN treaty to control arms sales earlier this month, with the global effort to regulate the sale of conventional weapons being opposed by Iran, Syria and North Korea. Iran’s opposition stunned many nations, particularly those from the 120-member Non-Aligned Movement of which Iran is currently serving as president.

The part of the treaty that likely did not suit Iran, Syria and North Korea was that concerning arms sales to countries that face sanctions, with the UN treaty aiming not only to regulate the international trade in conventional weapons but also to increase transparency.

The Syrian government recently lost its seat in the Arab League to the rebels who have now been fighting the regime in Damascus since 2011, and the UN treaty, if agreed, would likely have curbed weapons sales to the government. North Korea has already declared a state of emergency and has threatened to use nuclear warheads in a stand-off with the US.

Iran is in neither situation at the moment, but with tense relations with its neighbours and struggling to solve its problems with the international community over its controversial nuclear programme, it sees the UN treaty as limiting its scope for manoeuvre were the country to face a confrontation.

The treaty could be used to push for further sanctions on countries like Iran if a new round of resolutions passes at the UN, and it could also be used to target Iran’s nuclear programme.

Such matters are sure to have been in the back of the minds of Iran’s rulers when they decided to vote against the UN treaty, and they help observers to understand their resistance to uncritical cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency or with the P5+1 group.

Iran needs a security guarantee, and this cannot be gained unless it sits down with the US, however painful that may be.

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