Saturday,22 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1169, (24 - 30 October 2013)
Saturday,22 September, 2018
Issue 1169, (24 - 30 October 2013)

Ahram Weekly

Eyeing carefully the endgame

While relations between Iran and the US appear to be improving, Tehran’s present moderates will not be cheated as were some of their ideological predecessors, writes Camelia Entekhabifard

Al-Ahram Weekly

When Israeli Prime Minster Binyamin Netanyahu was addressing the UN General Assembly in September as the last speaker, openly he asked the Arab world to unite with him against a nuclear-armed Iran.

Unhappy, the Israeli prime minister did his best to show his anger and disapproval at the latest developments between Iran and the US, referring to the Barack Obama-Hassan Rouhani phone conversation. What irked Netanyahu wasn’t just the phone conversation; the private 30-minute talk between John Kerry and counterpart Mohamed Javad Zarif at the UN on the sidelines of the meeting between Iran and the P5+1 (the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) also mattered to him.

Netanyahu felt alarmed and spread fear among Iran’s Arab neighbouring countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, about the consequences of this closeness between Iran and the United States. Netanyahu called Iran the ultimate threat for Arab states’ national security if the regime in Tehran gains nuclear weapons. But why would Israel be so worried about Arab states?

Not long ago, a few months before the presidential elections in Iran, the tension between Iran and the US increased so much that Iranians felt confrontation was inevitable. Last winter, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps issued a statement warning US interest sections in the region of retaliation in the case of the US attacking Iran.

Now, amid the possibility of an improvement in relations between Iran and the US, stunned Israel and some nations in the region can’t believe and understand the US motivations vis-a-vis Iran.

In the latest development in the Geneva talks between Iran and P5+1, which continued last week, both sides called the meetings “successful” though the details have been kept secret, at the request of Zarif.

Later, Zarif and his deputy, Abbas Araqhchi, explained that for agreement to be reached, media propaganda should be minimised — that they asked negotiators not to disclose details yet. At a minimum, the request shows the hopefulness of Tehran to reach a positive conclusion.

Perhaps extensive monitoring, in accordance with a protocol that oversees inspections, is something Iran is close to agreeing on, if its right to enrich uranium to medium grades is recognised, major sanctions removed, and the Iranian file comes back to the International Atomic Energy Agency from the UN Security Council.

Iran and P5+1 agreed to meet again soon, in early November. If all goes well, as Rouhani is expecting, it is possible that in six months to one year a deal can be reached with Western powers and the Iranian nuclear file will become history. In a positive step, the US administration decided to release some of Iran’s banking assets, but step by step, according to the report published in The New York Times.

Of course, Iran-US negotiations are not only about Iran’s nuclear power. The US needs to get close to Iran not only over the nuclear file, but also regional issues, such as the crises in Syria and Afghanistan.

Within months, US troops will begin to withdraw from Afghanistan while presidential elections are due in the country in April. Iran’s influence in Syria as well as Afghanistan hasn’t been hidden from anyone. Given the tense situation between Hamid Karzai and Obama over the post-occupation security agreement, which hasn’t been signed yet, it’s very important for the US that Iran is at least not directly adversarial in the Afghan theatre. Iran, meanwhile, is worried that the US may keep permanent military bases near its borders. Tehran’s disapproval is a major reason for Karzai refusing to sign a security treaty with Washington. Today, Karzai is no longer America’s man in Afghanistan. He is closer to Iran than other neighbours, while in the previous presidential election Karzai enjoyed Iranian support as a consequence of this closeness.

Iranian backing will be key in upcoming elections, while the security agreement can’t be signed unless Iran green lights it for President Karzai.

On Syria, Iran’s influence could deliver Bashar Al-Assad’s agreement to step down and conduct early presidential elections.

Indeed, some of the region’s most implacable problems could be solved before Obama’s presidency ends if Iran stays at the side of the US, even if invisibly.

Many countries in this region enjoy US aid and military assistance, including Israel, largely because of the “Iranian threat”. Such aid would be jeopardised if US-Iranian relations improved and the two nations could communicate directly without mediators.

Today’s Iran is not the Iran when Mohamed Khatami became president back in 1997. Khatami assisted the US in the war on terror in Afghanistan and shared intelligence with the US against the Taliban. In return, former president George W Bush dubbed Iran part of an “axis of evil”.

Iran once again helped the US in Iraq, over security. It gained nothing except threats.

Times have changed. The new government is not as soft as former president Khatami and not as harsh as former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Rouhani is a moderate, smart and intelligent person that wouldn’t take any step if he weren’t assured that Iran’s rights were preserved and addressed.

On Monday, Deputy Foreign Minister Araqhchi said: “We won’t walk in the dark anymore. Anything we agree on has to be signed and documented.”

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