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What Happens after Baghdad Talks: Scenarios and Solutions
Editor's note: Dr. Ali Abdullah-Khani is the President of Tehran International Studies & Research Institute (TISRI)
The latest two rounds of negotiations between Iran and the group P5+1, known as Istanbul 2 and Baghdad talks, have provided a good ground for speculations about goals and objectives of the United States and its European allies. The following pessimistic and optimistic scenarios can be considered in this regard.
1. The United States is looking for an ethical justification for the escalation of its hostile measures against Iran in the future. Therefore, by engaging in a few rounds of talks with Tehran, Washington aims to tell the world that negotiations have failed due to Iran's lack of cooperation and, as such, the United States has no other choice, but to launch a military attack on Iran or take another similar step. This situation will help the United States to provide ethical immunity for the unconventional measures which it is contemplating to take against Iran in the future.
2. After Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, wrote a letter to his counterpart, Ms. Catherine Ashton, announcing Iran's readiness to talk about its nuclear capabilities, the United States has come to believe that Iran is ready to give up its nuclear energy program due to certain reasons, including tough international sanctions. Therefore, the United States and its European allies believe that negotiations are a means of finding a way for Iran to submit (not a means of cornering Iran). Therefore, by putting total suspension of 20-percent uranium enrichment and also by focusing on Fordow nuclear site, they are apparently trying to widen the time interval that Iran needs to achieve the capability to build nuclear weapons.
3. It will take some time before tough sanctions that the United States and its European allies have imposed on Iran in the past six months will start to have an effect. Meanwhile, Israel’s hurry to engage in military confrontation with Iran and Islamic Republic’s possible angry reaction to it may draw the United States into the vortex of a new conflict for which the US is not ready in view of its domestic conditions (such as the forthcoming presidential elections and the West’s financial crisis). On the other hand, regional conditions (including the wave of awakening in Arab nations and the transitional situation in the Middle East) are not suitable for such a military faceoff. As a result, negotiations with Iran provide the United States with an opportunity to buy time until the full sting of sanctions is felt in Iran, gain more internal preparedness, and strengthen its grip on the situation in the Middle East. The bottom line is that the United States believes international sanctions will start to show their impact on Iran in the coming year and Iran will give up under their pressure. Otherwise, they argue, domestic US conditions and regional circumstances will further improve in order to provide an opportunity for the United States to act under more favorable conditions.
4. After necessary assessments, especially by analyzing the final impact of recently increased political and economic pressures on Iran which have at times brought both sides to the brink of an all-out war, the United States has reached the conclusion that its win (for US) – lose (submission of Iran) game or all (for the US) - none (for Iran) strategy which have been pursued in the past decade were, in fact, the main catalysts which prompted Iran to increase its centrifuges from 800 to 8,000 and its level of enrichment from 3.5 percent to 20 percent. In addition, they have come to realize that possible failure of the current policy (of exerting political and economic pressure on Iran) and reaching the stage of military confrontation with Iran will not necessarily cause Tehran to give up its nuclear energy program. On the opposite, it may be the outset of a complicated conflict which may rapidly get out of hand and have unpredictable consequences for all involved parties with the least achievements. In this way, all involved parties will be losers of such a military confrontation. Just imagine that the beginning of war with Iran will be rapidly followed by Iran's decision to stop all cooperation with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). According to the existing legal rules, Tehran will be then entitled to forget about its obligations for pursuing a peaceful nuclear energy program; stray missiles will start to hit oil production centers, reserves, and pipeline through the Persian Gulf region and global oil prices will skyrocket as a result of those attacks. On the other hand, bombardment of Iran will marginalize moderate policies and politicians in the country’s political scene for a long time to come while hatred toward the United States and attacks against its interests through the world will become rule of the day.
Moreover, other parties, including Israel, Lebanon, Syria and the whole Arab states around the Persian Gulf and the Mediterranean will get involved in the war. As a result, the war on Iran will rapidly evolve into a full-blown regional (or even globalized) war in the Middle East, which in turn, increases chances of more transregional war as a result of international focus on the Persian Gulf conflict. All these facts can make the US government reach the conclusion that it really needs a more realistic approach based on a more different game.
5. Certain indications from the US President Barack Obama in recent weeks are telltale signs of his effort at being serious about nuclear negotiations and his acceptance of a win-win strategy on Iran. Those indications include the idea of differentiating between nuclear capability and building nuclear weapons; attention to a recent fatwa (religious edict) by Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei that building nuclear weapons is haram (forbidden) in Islam; and emphasis on Iran's nuclear rights as opposed to its obligations (on May 19, 2012 and before G8 meeting) as a confidence building measure which can facilitate verification of non-diversion in Iran's nuclear program toward military purposes.
For two reasons; firstly, the historical backgrounds, and secondly, realities on the ground, the first three scenarios seem to be more realistic. According to historical backgrounds, all positions and measures taken by the United States on Iran during the past 33 years have been hostile and accompanied with cheating and deception. Therefore, we can count on the said historical backgrounds in this case as well.
On the other hand, such measures as passing another bill for the intensification of anti-Iranian sanctions by the US Senate on May 21, 2012; low level of the P5+1 negotiating team in Istanbul 2 and Baghdad talks and their resultant inability to discuss serious issues and make strategic decisions; as well as offering commonplace and totally personal proposals by Ms. Ashton in Baghdad talks such as proposing plane parts in return for the suspension of 20-percent uranium enrichment, were all indicative that the negotiations are just another hoax within the framework of all (for US) – none (for Iran), or win (for US) – lose (for Iran) strategy.
Despite the above facts, I think when President Obama, as commander in chief of the armed forces and the highest ranking official in charge of the national security of a global power, talks about differentiation between nuclear capability and nuclear weapons in his address to AIPAC meeting and elsewhere, and when, before Baghdad negotiations, he clearly talks about Iran's nuclear rights as opposed to its nuclear obligations, he should be taken seriously. This is especially true about Iran's nuclear case which has turned into one of the most important international cases. Therefore, I think that the Islamic Republic should engage seriously in new talks in order to prove to the world that despite realities on the ground and the aforesaid historical backgrounds, it is ready to prove its goodwill. Therefore, and assuming that the fifth or at least the fourth scenario will form the basis of negotiations, I am willing to propose the following measures.
1. Both sides agree that as long as negotiations continue, they should avoid of provocative measures against each other. This means that Iran should clearly stop developing its nuclear installations and equipment while the P5+1 should accept to avoid adopting new resolutions and issuing provocative statements, especially on the suspension of uranium enrichment by the Islamic Republic of Iran. It should also avoid passing new sanctions with respect to Iran's nuclear energy program.
2. During the upcoming Moscow negotiations, the P5+1 should emphasize on Iran's nuclear rights, as stipulated by President Obama, and unequivocally recognize Iran's right to enrich uranium up to 5 percent in its own facilities. The Islamic Republic of Iran, in return, should issue an official statement following Moscow talks in which Tehran will declare its readiness to stop 20-percent uranium enrichment.
3. The main concern of the United States is to prevent Iran's achievement of nuclear weapons and the most important problem for the Islamic Republic of Iran is to have its nuclear rights recognized within framework of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Therefore, the two sides better prepare a package on the best way for preventing diversion in Iran's nuclear program toward military purposes under supervision of the United States and two impartial representatives chosen by Iran. In this way, the package can be discussed and approved in the fourth round of negotiations between Iran and the P5+1. On the other hand, Iran can propose a package on its nuclear rights in cooperation with two impartial representatives appointed by the United States for further discussion and approval in the fourth round of talks between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the group P5+1. Obviously, proposals for preparing both packages should be raised during the third and upcoming round of negotiations in Moscow.
Key Words: Baghdad Talks, Scenarios and Solutions, Iran and P5+1, Military Attack, IAEA, NPT, New Sanctions, Uranium Enrichment, Abdullah-Khani