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Lessons learnt from Iranian negotiations

January 24, 2014 at 3:08 am

As was expected, Iran and the P5+1 countries reached an interim six-month agreement on the Iranian nuclear issue. The deal sealed Western recognition of Iran’s right to produce nuclear energy for peaceful purposes, while lowering enriched uranium to 5 per cent, in exchange for the gradual easing of sanctions. Iran can keep the centrifuge that could produce radioactive material for nuclear weapons, and it does not have to dismantle the Arak reactor.

The agreement came as no surprise following the election of liberal Hassan Rouhani as president of the Islamic Republic; he is well-known for being moderate and realistic. In addition, the West was inclined towards a deal; the alternative was an easy to start war with unpredictable outcomes. Iran stuck to its right to produce nuclear energy for peaceful purposes and, in doing so, joined North Korea as a model for developing countries, not only in terms of nuclear energy but also other policies.

I say this because we see many countries which give in to US pressure and follow the demands of Washington even when they are not in their own best interests. The Palestinian Authority, for example, gave in to American pressure and resumed negotiations with Israel even as the latter increased illegal settlement activity, its Judaisation of Jerusalem and the confiscation of Palestinian land, not only in the West Bank, but also in the Negev area, occupied since 1948. Another example of a government giving in to US pressure is Libya during the Gaddafi era, when he agreed to the dismantling of an early nuclear reactor project, in exchange for American acceptance. Having done so, he then faced an onslaught backed by the US and Western countries against his government.

Of course, Israel is unhappy with the Iran deal, as the Netanyahu government doesn’t want Iran to have any nuclear capabilities at all, for peaceful purposes or not. The Israelis believe that the Obama administration has made Iran “a nuclear, neighbouring country”, a serious failure and something that Israel cannot accept. As a result, the Israeli media is attacking Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has stressed that the agreement is not binding on his government, leaving the way open for Israeli hardliners to push for a unilateral attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities. While it is unlikely that Israel would go ahead and do this, we can never be sure. Iran, of course, would have the right to retaliate, which would serve Israeli interests well.

As for Arab worries about a nuclear Iran, many countries can now begin to establish their own nuclear industry for peaceful purposes. Israel will object, again, and may well attack such reactors, as it did against Iraq in 1981. Getting over the fears of Iran can be helped by owning the same nuclear facilities as it does. Iranian President Rouhani has stressed Tehran’s keenness on its relations with Arab countries, and mainly the Gulf States. As such, I do not believe that Iran will want to foster conflict with its Arab neighbours, because signing this agreement with the West means, among other things, international recognition of its strategic role in the region. It is expected that the West will be keen on Iran’s participation in any international efforts to bring an end to various conflicts in the Middle East, notably the situation in Syria.

Another lesson to be learnt from the Iranian experience is its skill at being hard-line and flexible in negotiations at one and the same time. Even during the rule of Rouhani’s predecessor, President Ahmadinejad, who was well known for being very strict, he kept the ball rolling; there was a Western siege and sanctions but Iran stood firm. This has now paid off, with the new agreement laying the foundations for future deals.

Although Iran claims that it has no intention to produce nuclear weapons, in theory it could still do so if it wanted, despite giving assurances to the contrary and opening its facilities to international inspection (unlike those of the US and Israel, I might add). Tehran has made the West recognise its right to have nuclear capabilities, so it is not beyond the bounds of possibility that the Iranian government will be able to persuade the West that it has a right to produce weapons in order to defend itself against an openly-threatened Israeli attack. That’s another lesson to learn from the agreement.

This is a translation of the Arabic text published by Al Quds Al Arabi on 20 November, 2013

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.