The attitude of Western negotiators can be summed up by an anonymous official’s expression: “Stop, shut, ship”. Stop enriching uranium, shutting down the requested nuclear facilities and shipping enriched uranium outside of the country.
Although the officials involved in diplomatic efforts with Iran are ambiguous about their progress, sometimes praising the “constructive” achievements and occasionally blaming the other side for the deadlock, actions on the ground are crystal clear.
On Sunday 1st of July, the European Union (EU) applied some of the severest economic sanctions so far against Iran. In response to that, Iran’s National Security and Foreign Policy Committee drafted a bill to close the Straight of Hormuz, where about one forth of the world’s crude oil is shipped, for all shipments bound for European countries supporting the sanctions. A day later, Iran carried out the “Great Prophet 7” missile exercise in which it simulated, apparently successfully, the bombing of key US bases which abound around Iran (check out this interactive map). In order not to appear weak, the US not only scheduled a military exercise with the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) due to take place in October/November but also increased its military presence near Iran by sending additional warships, F-22 stealth fighter jets and a new amphibious base to launch ground attacks. Finally, as a provocation, a US judge ruled that Tehran had to pay $8.8bn to the families of the US soldiers who fell victim to a terrorist attack carried out in Lebanon in 1983 sponsored by Iran.
Negotiations between the P5+1 (the five Security Council permanent members and Germany) are clearly failing- again. It should not surprise anyone. There are at least six conditions which need to be satisfied in order to break the stalemate.
Firstly, the US and the EU need to abandon the dual track policy: engaging in diplomatic efforts while applying biting sanctions. They need to choose between one of the two, they cannot have both. Unless they give up some of the heaviest sanctions, they will not come across as trustworthy. Furthermore, lifting sanctions is in their interest for another two reasons. In the first place, economic sanctions hit mainly the Iranian middle class which is where most of the anti-Ahmadinejad Green movement members come from. As long as it keeps the sanctions going, it is arguably helping their biggest foe. And second, sanctions are creating a climate in which the price of oil is increasing dramatically, making the recovery of many European countries more difficult, a factor which the EU cannot allow itself.
Secondly, the US and the EU need to make human rights issues integral to the negotiations. One of the reasons why the Obama administration did not pursue its diplomatic efforts with Iran in 2009, the year in which the White House was most serious about diplomacy with Iran, was because of the rigged Iranian elections and the violation of any human rights on behalf of the Ahmadinejad government against the protestors. The Obama administration could not be seen negotiating with a government allowing the killing, torturing and raping of its population. To be sure, this is a fault of Iran, not the US. But the latter needs to make it clear that it will not negotiate with an autocratic regime.
Thirdly, Israel needs to keep out of the talks. Although the western coalition is called the P5+1, it should really be called the P5+1+1. The Israeli government is doing anything it can to create a detrimental climate around the talks. The truth of the matter is that although it barks at every opportunity, ultimately it will not attack Iran. Even Ehud Barak, Israel’s hawkish Defence Minister, stated that “Iran does not constitute an existential threat against Israel”.
More importantly, the US needs to stop heeding pro-Israeli groups. The latter do not believe in the possibility of peaceful relations with Iran. Their only goal is to hinder diplomatic efforts between the US and the Islamic Republic. Unfortunately, the fact that the US Congress is at the mercy of these powerful lobbies makes it all the more difficult. One of the strongest set of sanctions, namely the ones targeting Iran’s gasoline imports, was sponsored by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Howard Berman (D-CA) after strong pressure by Israeli lobby groups such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). In fact, many ask what is happening to US sovereignty when Israeli politicians start influencing the drafting of bills.
Fourthly, the US and the EU need to recognise Iran’s right to enrich uranium. This is a right of all the signatories of the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (NPT) of which Iran is part (article IV.1). Until the US and the EU recognise this right, they will be perceived by Iran -quite rightly- as being biased (Israel is not a signatory and is in possession of over one hundred nuclear heads).
Fifthly, the Iranian government needs to start passing democratic reforms. At present, it is a dictatorship like any other. Both Ahmadinejad’s government and Ayatollah Khamenei have little if any political legitimacy. This makes the job of any negotiator more difficult because it gives off the impression of supporting a non-democratic regime.
Sixthly, and following from what has just been said, it is imperative that the P5+1 start negotiating not only with officials from Ahmadinejad’s government and close to Ayatollah Khamenei but also with officials from other sectors of society, such as the government’s opposition. One of the reasons why Turkey and Brazil managed to get a breakthrough in the negotiations -which the Obama administration foolishly rejected- was precisely because it engaged with these other sectors of society. This allowed them to build confidence with a higher number of officials which made it easier to close a deal.
Many of these conditions are meant to change the attitude of Western negotiators which can be summed up by an anonymous official’s expression: “Stop, shut, ship”. This refers to the West’s demand to stop enriching uranium, shutting down the requested nuclear facilities and ship enriched uranium outside of the country.
Clearly, many of these conditions are difficult to achieve. At the same time, though, these conditions show, against pessimists, that a solution is possible.