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The contextual waves behind the Iranian nuclear deal: why is progress minimal?

April 2, 2015 at 10:12 am

On Tuesday night, the international community anxiously waited for the outcome of talks between the P5+1 and Iran on the Iranian nuclear deal. As many anticipated, the parties were unable to reach a deal and the talks were extended to 30 June 2015. This sparked many global reactions, including states such as China expressing the futility of these talks if a deal isn’t reached soon. As frustration begins to boil at the perceived diplomatic failures, so does a lack of empathy regarding the unstable political context that the P5+1 and Iran are working with.

The international community must consider that diplomatic talks are never apolitical and they are not without socio-historical context. In the case of Iran, the complexities are heightened due to their historically unstable relationship with the West. It is naïve to believe that Iranian representatives walk into the meetings disregarding the longstanding impression that the West has attempted to exert an imperialist policy towards Iran. Events such as the American backed Mossadegh coup of 1953 still linger in the memories of many Iranian civilians and politicians, thus shaping the debates surrounding the nuclear deal within Iran. The sentiments are especially strong amongst more Conservative Iranians, which can be proven by former President Ahmadinejad’s (who stood for the right wing Abadgaran party) demand that the U.S make a formal apology for assisting in orchestrating the coup when he was still in power in 2009.

Domestic opinions of other participating countries also play a role in their impression. In the context of the United Kingdom, the Conservative party who are currently in power have a strong links with the many Israeli lobbies that have a degree of influence on British politics. Conservative Friends of Israel issued a statement about Iran’s progress days before the extension of the deadline, implying that any failure to reach a deal is purely at the fault of Iran. It is evident that the Conservative party’s policy is not dismissive of the demands of the Israeli Lobby as Prime Minister David Cameron is constantly reiterating his “rock solid” support for Israel. Just last week, at the Community Security Trust annual dinner, he reiterated to the Israeli Lobby that under his government, they “will always have a British Prime Minister whose belief in Israel is unbreakable and whose commitment to Israel’s security will always be rock solid”. It is also noteworthy to mention that there are no specific pro-Iran lobby groups in any of the mainstream UK political parties to push an understanding of the Iranian perspective.

The global political situation in the Middle East is always a factor that determines Western relations towards Iran and it is also one of the reasons behind its instability. As a country that for decades has aspired to a hegemonic status in the Middle East, Iran’s role, especially within the Arab world is deeply embedded into any discussion about the future of the Middle East. The West can simultaneously find mutual interests and reasons to fear Iran, depending on which event in the Middle East is more of a priority for policy making. This time last year, Iran and the West automatically aligned their policies by making the destruction of ISIS a very high priority. US Secretary of State John Kerry even proposed formally working with Iran to tackle the ISIS epidemic, shortly before Iran joined the US in launching air strikes against ISIS militants. The past week however, has shown Western policy side with the Arab coalition against the Houthi insurgency (who are backed by Iran) in Yemen, thus representing a clash between Iranian and Western interests.

It is important to remember that the P5+1 may agree on the same ultimate aim, which is to propose a nuclear deal with Iran, but their policies on Iran do not always coincide with each other. Russia being a longstanding ally of Iran and also a longstanding rival of the Western world shares the interest of Iran to keep restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities to a minimum. They have been very supportive of Iran’s nuclear activities; this is shown through their efforts to minimise the sanctions damage on the country. Russia and China openly side with Iran on the sticking point of sanctions easing in the P5+1 talks, thus extending the sanction’s bargaining process.

Those that are currently disappointed with the outcome of the talks are not only undermining the complexities behind them, but are ignoring the way in which history, political personalities and domestic politics play many roles in the attitudes negotiators bring with them to the table. When negotiating with a country that has very high levels of influence in a strategic area of the world, an area which is struggling with growing hostilities, very high levels of sensitivity will be needed and decisions must be deliberated and carefully considered. States are not unresponsive boxes of power but are sensitive electrical charges in the circuit of politics.

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