World
Melkulangara Bhadrakumar
November 30, 2013
© Photo: Public domain

Part I

The Economist magazine, which is not exactly known to be a friend of Iran, came out with an editorial in its latest issue backing the interim agreement worked out in Geneva. It called the deal a «keyhole» that «offers a tantalizing glimpse of a different, better Middle East». 

The editorial anticipates the possibility of «America and Iran cooperating more, or at least feuding less, in the world’s most troubled region». It adds, «The immediate test, and opportunity, will be Syria… It [Iran] also shares, with America, a fear of the Sunni extremism flourishing in rebel-held areas [in Syria]. The West needs to accept that Iran must be at the table in the peace talks due in Geneva. If anybody can bully Mr. [Bashar Al-] Assad to offer concessions, it is Mr. Rohani. And if Syria becomes even mildly more tranquil, it would calm its neighbors». 

In similar vein, the editorial went on to mention Lebanon, Iraq, Bahrain, Palestine and Yemen as other Middle Eastern hotspots where the West could expect Iran to play a constructive role as a factor of regional stability. 

Indeed, it shouldn’t be surprising at all if this – or at least some of this – is already rubbing on the US’s Arab allies. Saudi Arabia has cautiously welcomed the deal, acknowledging that it «could be a first step towards a comprehensive solution for Iran’s nuclear program, if there are good intentions». The other GCC states, especially the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, have also voiced endorsement of the deal. 

The American experts already predict that Saudi Arabia is expected to soon engage in diplomatic overtures with Iran. Richard LeBaron of the Atlantic Council, who was a former US ambassador to Kuwait, was quoted after a visit to Saudi Arabia this week that he expected a «in the next few months» diplomatic engagements between Riyadh and Tehran. LeBaron recalled, «The Saudis and the other Gulf states have had diplomatic relations with Iran for many, many years. They never broke their relations when we [US] did. We haven’t been in Iran for 33 years. They’ve had some periods of decent relations; they’ve had some periods of less effective relations». 

Following his meetings with the elites in Riyadh, he estimated that the Saudis are beginning to think through their options. LeBaron explained, «If they [Saudis} think the scenario is going to emerge where the United States is going to have improved relations with Iran, I think they’ll want to hedge their own bets and test [Iranian President Hassan] Rouhani’s indication that he believes, for example, that improvement of relations with Saudi Arabia should be an Iranian priority». 

This is where developments such as the proposed establishment of a joint chamber of commerce between the US and Iran would have a big psychological impact on the GCC states. The AFP news agency reported Wednesday that the new chamber will be «launched in less than one month». Again, Iran is on the verge of resuming direct flights to the US. 

Meanwhile, Iran is not standing still, either, as regards its bumpy relations with its Gulf Arab neighbor. All indications are that the Iranian leadership is also contemplating a major initiative to repair the ties with Saudi Arabia. Rouhani is well-known to the Saudi royal family. Ten years ago, as the then chief of Iran’s national security council, the Saudis bestowed honor on him for fostering close ties between Tehran and Riyadh. Equally, the Saudi leadership holds the former president Rafsanjani, who is a key promoter of Rouhani’s policies today, in much respect and high regard for his moderation and pragmatism. 

We may expect that in the six-month period of the interim deal struck in Geneva while the work on negotiating a final agreement begins, the Iranian leadership will also mount on a parallel track a robust diplomatic initiative to bring the relations with the GCC countries on par with the spirit of the times, as it were. We may even expect a path-breaking visit by Rouhani (or Rafsanjani) to Saudi Arabia in a near future. 

Now, Tehran knows that a reset of the calculus of the emergent power dynamic will not be complete unless Iran’s Arab neighbors come to terms with it. Besides, there is another angle to it. The point is, the Gulf states’ endorsement of the Geneva deal, howsoever cautiously and tentatively they could be, nonetheless constitutes a huge setback of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. His fanciful notions that Israel and the Gulf Arab regimes led by Saudi Arabia will mount a ferocious onslaught on the White House so that Obama is rattled and would develop cold feet about moving forward with Iran any further, are crash landing, leaving Israel in splendid isolation. 

That leaves Netanyahu somewhat like Sancho Panza tilting at the windmill in the Cervantes novel. How long can he carry on like this? Diplomacy cannot be conducted through media articles in the US (which is of course heavily laden with Jewish presence). Netanyahu’s rejectionist stance, his maximalist demand that Iran should have no right whatsoever to pursue a nuclear program and his continued threat of launching a unilateral attack against Iran if he felt Israel’s security is threatened – all this becomes increasingly untenable and unreasonable once the joint commission involving the P5+1 and Iran begin t flesh out the interim agreement. Even France, who Israel probably counted on playing the role of a «spoiler» at the Geneva talks last weekend beat a retreat when it began sensing isolation within the European Union and the US’ determination to push ahead with the interim agreement. 

Moreover, Netanyahu’s defiant tone is already being criticized by former senior Israeli national security officials, who view it as counter-productive and eventually damaging to Israel’s long-term relationship with Washington. All things taken into account, therefore, Netanyahu is fast approaching a dilemma – whether to keep fulminating against the Geneva deal and damage his equations with the Obama administration or to gradually begin to switch tack. The visit by secretary of state John Kerry to Israel next week will bear watch. (Interestingly, Kerry will also travel to Ramallah, making it clear that Iran is not the only issue on the US-Israeli agenda.) Britain and France are also deputing envoys to visit Israel to counsel moderation. The British Foreign Secretary William Hague has openly appealed to Israel to avoid any action that would undermine the interim nuclear agreement with Iran. 

Amos Harel of Haaretz newspaper wrote a brilliant analysis earlier this week summing up that now that the agreement struck at Geneva is a fait accompli, Netanyahu should focus his mind on repairing his equations with the Obama administration and try to «influence the quality of supervision at the nuclear sites during the interim period, and help craft the final agreement with Iran, if one is reached».

Harel warned, «In recent weeks, there has been an evident decline in Washington’s willingness to compromise with Israel on sensitive security issues… The question at this stage is what alternatives Israel has… Iran is gradually emerging from its international isolation thanks to the negotiations with the world powers… The feelings of shock and anger in Jerusalem are legitimate, but they can’t be a work plan». 

In sum, therefore, it is possible to look ahead with a measure of justifiable optimism. It is rather easy to foretell that negotiating a comprehensive and final agreement on the Iran nuclear issue is by no means an easy task. It involves hard negotiations. For a start, there is a huge amount of work to be done to implement the interim agreement itself (although the six-month duration is renewable by mutual consent). The objective is to reach a comprehensive solution within one year with multiple elements – Iran’s rights and obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and IAEA safeguards; fully addressing and resolving the concerns related to Arak; a matrix of transparent monitoring; and cooperation on Iran’s civilian nuclear program. 

The devil in such situations always lies in the details and fleshing out details takes time and demands patience. But it is equally easy to exaggerate the obstacles that can come in the way. For, without doubt, there has been a paradigm shift. In essence, the contours of a settlement have already emerged: Iran can have the rights to enrich uranium but under stringent safeguards and provided it gives iron-clad guarantee that it will not pursue a clandestine nuclear weapon program. This was the hardest part. 

Most certainly, Hague would have echoed the American thinking as well when he summed up at the House of Commons in a statement on Monday regarding the Geneva deal that «the fact that we have achieved for the first time in nearly a decade an agreement that halts and rolls back Iran’s nuclear program, should give us heart that this work can be done and that a comprehensive agreement can be attained». 

(The writer is a former diplomat)

The views of individual contributors do not necessarily represent those of the Strategic Culture Foundation.
Why a Final Iran Deal is Feasible (II)

Part I

The Economist magazine, which is not exactly known to be a friend of Iran, came out with an editorial in its latest issue backing the interim agreement worked out in Geneva. It called the deal a «keyhole» that «offers a tantalizing glimpse of a different, better Middle East». 

The editorial anticipates the possibility of «America and Iran cooperating more, or at least feuding less, in the world’s most troubled region». It adds, «The immediate test, and opportunity, will be Syria… It [Iran] also shares, with America, a fear of the Sunni extremism flourishing in rebel-held areas [in Syria]. The West needs to accept that Iran must be at the table in the peace talks due in Geneva. If anybody can bully Mr. [Bashar Al-] Assad to offer concessions, it is Mr. Rohani. And if Syria becomes even mildly more tranquil, it would calm its neighbors». 

In similar vein, the editorial went on to mention Lebanon, Iraq, Bahrain, Palestine and Yemen as other Middle Eastern hotspots where the West could expect Iran to play a constructive role as a factor of regional stability. 

Indeed, it shouldn’t be surprising at all if this – or at least some of this – is already rubbing on the US’s Arab allies. Saudi Arabia has cautiously welcomed the deal, acknowledging that it «could be a first step towards a comprehensive solution for Iran’s nuclear program, if there are good intentions». The other GCC states, especially the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, have also voiced endorsement of the deal. 

The American experts already predict that Saudi Arabia is expected to soon engage in diplomatic overtures with Iran. Richard LeBaron of the Atlantic Council, who was a former US ambassador to Kuwait, was quoted after a visit to Saudi Arabia this week that he expected a «in the next few months» diplomatic engagements between Riyadh and Tehran. LeBaron recalled, «The Saudis and the other Gulf states have had diplomatic relations with Iran for many, many years. They never broke their relations when we [US] did. We haven’t been in Iran for 33 years. They’ve had some periods of decent relations; they’ve had some periods of less effective relations». 

Following his meetings with the elites in Riyadh, he estimated that the Saudis are beginning to think through their options. LeBaron explained, «If they [Saudis} think the scenario is going to emerge where the United States is going to have improved relations with Iran, I think they’ll want to hedge their own bets and test [Iranian President Hassan] Rouhani’s indication that he believes, for example, that improvement of relations with Saudi Arabia should be an Iranian priority». 

This is where developments such as the proposed establishment of a joint chamber of commerce between the US and Iran would have a big psychological impact on the GCC states. The AFP news agency reported Wednesday that the new chamber will be «launched in less than one month». Again, Iran is on the verge of resuming direct flights to the US. 

Meanwhile, Iran is not standing still, either, as regards its bumpy relations with its Gulf Arab neighbor. All indications are that the Iranian leadership is also contemplating a major initiative to repair the ties with Saudi Arabia. Rouhani is well-known to the Saudi royal family. Ten years ago, as the then chief of Iran’s national security council, the Saudis bestowed honor on him for fostering close ties between Tehran and Riyadh. Equally, the Saudi leadership holds the former president Rafsanjani, who is a key promoter of Rouhani’s policies today, in much respect and high regard for his moderation and pragmatism. 

We may expect that in the six-month period of the interim deal struck in Geneva while the work on negotiating a final agreement begins, the Iranian leadership will also mount on a parallel track a robust diplomatic initiative to bring the relations with the GCC countries on par with the spirit of the times, as it were. We may even expect a path-breaking visit by Rouhani (or Rafsanjani) to Saudi Arabia in a near future. 

Now, Tehran knows that a reset of the calculus of the emergent power dynamic will not be complete unless Iran’s Arab neighbors come to terms with it. Besides, there is another angle to it. The point is, the Gulf states’ endorsement of the Geneva deal, howsoever cautiously and tentatively they could be, nonetheless constitutes a huge setback of Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. His fanciful notions that Israel and the Gulf Arab regimes led by Saudi Arabia will mount a ferocious onslaught on the White House so that Obama is rattled and would develop cold feet about moving forward with Iran any further, are crash landing, leaving Israel in splendid isolation. 

That leaves Netanyahu somewhat like Sancho Panza tilting at the windmill in the Cervantes novel. How long can he carry on like this? Diplomacy cannot be conducted through media articles in the US (which is of course heavily laden with Jewish presence). Netanyahu’s rejectionist stance, his maximalist demand that Iran should have no right whatsoever to pursue a nuclear program and his continued threat of launching a unilateral attack against Iran if he felt Israel’s security is threatened – all this becomes increasingly untenable and unreasonable once the joint commission involving the P5+1 and Iran begin t flesh out the interim agreement. Even France, who Israel probably counted on playing the role of a «spoiler» at the Geneva talks last weekend beat a retreat when it began sensing isolation within the European Union and the US’ determination to push ahead with the interim agreement. 

Moreover, Netanyahu’s defiant tone is already being criticized by former senior Israeli national security officials, who view it as counter-productive and eventually damaging to Israel’s long-term relationship with Washington. All things taken into account, therefore, Netanyahu is fast approaching a dilemma – whether to keep fulminating against the Geneva deal and damage his equations with the Obama administration or to gradually begin to switch tack. The visit by secretary of state John Kerry to Israel next week will bear watch. (Interestingly, Kerry will also travel to Ramallah, making it clear that Iran is not the only issue on the US-Israeli agenda.) Britain and France are also deputing envoys to visit Israel to counsel moderation. The British Foreign Secretary William Hague has openly appealed to Israel to avoid any action that would undermine the interim nuclear agreement with Iran. 

Amos Harel of Haaretz newspaper wrote a brilliant analysis earlier this week summing up that now that the agreement struck at Geneva is a fait accompli, Netanyahu should focus his mind on repairing his equations with the Obama administration and try to «influence the quality of supervision at the nuclear sites during the interim period, and help craft the final agreement with Iran, if one is reached».

Harel warned, «In recent weeks, there has been an evident decline in Washington’s willingness to compromise with Israel on sensitive security issues… The question at this stage is what alternatives Israel has… Iran is gradually emerging from its international isolation thanks to the negotiations with the world powers… The feelings of shock and anger in Jerusalem are legitimate, but they can’t be a work plan». 

In sum, therefore, it is possible to look ahead with a measure of justifiable optimism. It is rather easy to foretell that negotiating a comprehensive and final agreement on the Iran nuclear issue is by no means an easy task. It involves hard negotiations. For a start, there is a huge amount of work to be done to implement the interim agreement itself (although the six-month duration is renewable by mutual consent). The objective is to reach a comprehensive solution within one year with multiple elements – Iran’s rights and obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and IAEA safeguards; fully addressing and resolving the concerns related to Arak; a matrix of transparent monitoring; and cooperation on Iran’s civilian nuclear program. 

The devil in such situations always lies in the details and fleshing out details takes time and demands patience. But it is equally easy to exaggerate the obstacles that can come in the way. For, without doubt, there has been a paradigm shift. In essence, the contours of a settlement have already emerged: Iran can have the rights to enrich uranium but under stringent safeguards and provided it gives iron-clad guarantee that it will not pursue a clandestine nuclear weapon program. This was the hardest part. 

Most certainly, Hague would have echoed the American thinking as well when he summed up at the House of Commons in a statement on Monday regarding the Geneva deal that «the fact that we have achieved for the first time in nearly a decade an agreement that halts and rolls back Iran’s nuclear program, should give us heart that this work can be done and that a comprehensive agreement can be attained». 

(The writer is a former diplomat)