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April 17, 2012 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 823

Renewed Iran-West Nuclear Talks – Part I: Following First Round of Talks, Iran Celebrates Double Victory Over West, Arabs

April 17, 2012 | By A. Savyon
Iran | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 823

Introduction

Iran perceives the renewal of its nuclear talks with the 5+1 as a significant victory over the West and over its Arab neighbors, both in terms of the substance of the talks and in terms of enhancing Iran's geopolitical status – which has suffered considerably over the past year and a half.

Iran's success in the first round of talks, held April 13-14 in Istanbul, was twofold. Not only did it achieve its long-standing declared goal of buying time by engaging the West in a long-term negotiations process, it has also gained Western approval to hold the next round of talks, scheduled for May 23, in Baghdad, in an Arab country which Iran considers to be within its sphere of influence.

The following report will review various statements by Iranian officials and pro-Iran activists, both prior to and following the Istanbul talks, reflecting Iran's perception of its achievements in these talks.

Statements by Iranian Officials and Pro-Iran Activists on Eve of Talks

Salehi: "Dialogue Must Be Seen As a Process Rather Than an Event"

On the eve of the first round of talks, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi published an op-ed in the Washington Post titled "We Do Not Want Nuclear Weapons." In it, he stressed that Tehran viewed the talks "as a process rather than an event," and that the negotiations must be based on relations between equals. He also emphasized that this process necessitated concessions from the West to Iran:

"A key aspect of entering a conversation based on mutual respect is recognizing the other side's concerns as equal to one's own. To solve the nuclear issue, the scope of the upcoming talks among Iran and the "P5+1"(the United States, Britain, China, France, Russia and Germany) must be comprehensive. The concerns of all sides must be addressed. Complex matters that have been left unaddressed for decades cannot be solved overnight. Another sign of mutual respect is a willingness and readiness to both give and take, without preconditions. This form of reciprocity is distinct from approaches that involve only taking. Most important, and this cannot be stressed enough, is that dialogue must be seen as a process rather than an event [emphasis added]."[1]

President of American Iranian Council: Past Iran-U.S. Negotiations "Were Never Sustained for Any Length of Time"

Similar remarks were made in an April 13 article published on the website of the American Iranian Council (AIC), by its president, dual Iranian-U.S. citizen Hooshang Amirahmadi, who is close to elite regime circles in Iran:[2] "The biggest problem with the past negotiations has been that they were... never sustained for any length of time [emphasis added]… The lack of meaningful and sustainable negotiations has been a key factor in making the U.S. increasingly move towards further pressure on Iran, assuming that the pressure policy will make Iran bend. Yet, it is this pressure policy that has in the past blocked such negotiations, and its continuation will make Iran resist more and longer. The good news is that the U.S. seems to have ultimately understood the 'pressure trap' and has begun to speak in a more conciliatory tone…"[3]

Following Talks, Iranians Declare Victory

While the U.S. and Europe expressed satisfaction over the positive atmosphere at the first round of talks, Iranian sources expounded on how the talks had marked a victory for Tehran. As proof, the Iranians noted the following:

· The West now seeks continued negotiations under any circumstances, as evidenced by its announcement, prior to the commencement of the first round of talks, that a second round of talks was already scheduled for May;

· The West has accepted Iran's right to pursue a nuclear program for civilian purposes, including the enrichment of uranium to 3.5%-5%;

· The West, which in the past has dictated conditions to Iran, was now negotiating mutual accommodations;

· The West has accepted Tehran's demand that these talks be without preconditions.

Supreme National Security Council secretary Saeed Jalili, who headed the Iranian delegation to the talks, said that the 5+1 had to gain Iran's trust, not the other way around.[4]

Although Jalili clarified that the agenda of the second round of nuclear talks "had not yet been determined," several prominent Iranian MPs claimed that the next round would deal with lifting the sanctions on Iran. In an interview with the Iranian Arabic-language Al-Alam TV, Majlis Energy Committee deputy chairman Nasser Sudani claimed that the April 13-14 talks "saw the acceptance of the conditions [set by] Iran, which did not include any condition or plan that deviates from international regulations. They [i.e. the 5+1] have committed to lifting all the sanctions, and this is a victory for Iran…"[5]

Like Jalili, Foreign Minister Salehi also said that the task of building trust lay with the West and not with Iran. He asserted that Iran – which, according to the latest IAEA report, is suspected of engaging in military nuclear activity – demands discussion on lifting the sanctions first, before it takes any serious measures to prove that it is not engaging in military nuclear activity: "If the West wants to build trust, it must begin by [lifting] the sanctions, because such a step could help reduce the time needed for achieving the [desired] results. The process of lifting the sanctions could be lengthy, but there is no reason for it to be so. If [the West] has good intentions, the process can be implemented very easily, and we are willing to [help] make it very easy and quick. In fact, we are even willing to resolve all the issues at the Baghdad talks..."

Salehi added: "At [the] Istanbul [talks], the two sides agreed that in the month prior to the Baghdad talks [on May 23], they would prepare a 'step-for-step' road map. The two sides [also] agreed that they would have to take their [mutual confidence-building] steps simultaneously." In conclusion, he added: "In the time left until the Baghdad talks, the West must work towards building confidence, and, as part of this, work towards lifting the sanctions."[6]

The daily Ebtekar explained that the Istanbul talks had been successful because the West had relinquished its precondition of a complete freeze on enrichment activity, and, unlike in previous rounds of talks, had been cautious in addressing this issue. The daily added that there was room for cautious optimism regarding the ultimate success of the talks, for a number of reasons – mainly the West's realization that the sanctions had no effect on Iran, and that if not resolved, the crisis could escalate into a "new world war."[7]

Kayhan Editorial: For the First Time, There Is a Profound Change in the West's Approach to the Iranian Nuclear Issue

An April 15 editorial in the daily Kayhan reflected Iran's sense of triumph: "At the Istanbul talks, perhaps for the first time in the history of the nuclear talks between Iran and the West, which have been ongoing since 2003, there were profound changes in the Western decisions and behavior. These changes stem from a shift in the West's assessment of Iran. The Iranian position has not changed over the years, [but] the West has realized that Iran does not capitulate to pressure and threats.

"Until [the Istanbul talks], whenever the Americans spoke of confidence-building measures on Iran's part, they meant only [one thing]: that Iran must stop any kind of enrichment [activity]. In the eyes of the West, that was the only confidence-building measure that could prove the exclusively civilian nature of Iran's nuclear program... But today, Western officials... say explicitly that [enrichment] to a level of 3%-5.5% [sic], in Iran [itself], is acceptable, and that everyone must focus on preventing Iran from enriching [uranium] to a higher level. Therefore, the era of denial of Iran's right to engage in enrichment is over.

"Another profound change is [reflected] in the current rhetoric of the 5+1. This [body] is adjusting to the new rhetoric of the talks, which can be called a rhetoric of reciprocal measures. Until now, the West always demanded that Iran undertake [various] commitments and measures, but did not consider itself obligated to take any confidence-building steps [of its own] towards Iran. [It behaved] as though Iran, and only Iran, had an obligation to assure the West as to its [nuclear] program... But a careful examination of statements by Western officials in the last two weeks reveals that... the rhetoric of unilateral confidence-building measures has vanished completely, and that the 5+1 has accepted that every Iranian step must be matched by a [Western] step...

"In her speech at the G8 yesterday, [U.S. Secretary of State] Hillary Clinton said that the West knew that Iran would demand guarantees, and that it was willing to consider doing so. Upon his return from the G8 summit, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, in reference to his meeting with U.S. officials, that all sides believed in advancing a gradual process, with [the 5+1] taking a step in response to every step by Iran. The G8 statement likewise said that [this body] supported the 'step for step' policy vis-à-vis Iran...

"The West's adoption of the 'step for step' formula – if indeed [implemented] – indicates that [the West] has backed down, and that the 5+1 has realized that the [method] of large demands and small incentives will lead nowhere.

"A third change [in the West's attitude] is that the 5+1 is explicitly interested in continuing the talks with Iran, in any way, and without even guaranteeing [compliance with] its minimal [demands]... One reason for this [shift] is that the West has realized that Iran's positions are immutable and that there can be no bargaining over its rights. Another reason is the intense disagreement within the 5+1 [itself]... Iran's strategic status in the region, especially following last year's Islamic revolutions, as well as Iran's national strength and the wisdom of its [supreme] leader, are the factors that deepened the disagreement within the 5+1 over the correct way to deal with Iran... The intelligence and strategy assessments of the U.S. and Israel differ greatly from one another, and differ even more from those of Russia and China. Consequently, the 5+1 apparently feels the need to buy time in order to resolve the internal differences..."[8]

The Holding of the Next Round of Talks in Baghdad – Another Victory for Iran

The fact that the next round of talks will be held in Baghdad, as Iran demanded, and the fact that this demand was met even before the first round was held, is yet another victory from the Iranian perspective. Trita Parsi and Reza Marashi, prominent pro-Iranian activists in the U.S., wrote in an op-ed: "As nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 commence… the Iranians have made a play to have negotiations take place in Baghdad, Damascus or Beirut – a not-so-subtle swipe at the waning influence of the U.S. in key regional outposts where Iran has pull."[9]

The holding of the next round of talks in Baghdad is an Iranian victory not only over the West, especially the U.S., but also over the Sunni Arab states, who are bitter enemies of Shi'ite Iran. Now Shi'ite Iran will host talks about its nuclear program – which threatens its Sunni Arab neighbors and adversaries more than anyone else – right there on Arab land, in Baghdad, which is now subject to Iran's hegemony.

*A. Savyon is director of the Iranian Media Project.

Endnotes:

[1] The Washington Post (US), April 12, 2012.

[2] In the past, Amirahmadi, who maintains close ties with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and other senior regime figures, obtained unusual approval from the Obama administration to open a branch office of an American NGO in Tehran.

[3] American-iranian.org, accessed April 13, 2012.

[4] Resalat (Iran), April 16, 2012.

[5] Al-Alam TV (Iran), April 15, 2012.

[6] ISNA (Iran), April 16, 2012.

[7] Ebtekar (Iran), April 16, 2012.

[8] Kayhan (Iran), April 15, 2012.

[9] Aljazeera.net, April 14, 2012.

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