New US Demands Complicate Iran Talks

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by Eldar Mamedov

On June 5-7, a cross-party group of members of the European Parliament visited Iran as a confidence-building measure ahead of the June 30 deadline for a final deal on Iran´s nuclear program.

The fact that both sides took this opportunity seriously is illustrated by the level of meetings in Tehran and the presence in the delegation of a number of senior EU lawmakers. Among the European participants were Elmar Brok (German Christian Democrat), the chair of the foreign affairs committee, and Richard Howitt (UK Labor Party), the foreign affairs spokesman for the Socialists & Democrats, the second largest group in the EP. They met with the Chairman of the Parliament Ali Larijani, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, his deputy Majid Takht Ravanchi, and other key Iranian officials, some of whom are directly involved in negotiations. These meetings allowed the European delegation to gain valuable insights into the state of play of the talks from the Iranian perspective.

Overall, the Iranians believe that reaching the deal by the deadline is possible, but they admitted that progress has been slow. Their key concern is the introduction of new demands by the US that go beyond the framework agreed in Lausanne. This complicates negotiations when only few weeks are left before the deadline.

The Devil in the Details

The success of the Lausanne agreement owed a great deal to the massive work done by the head of Iranian Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi and US Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. The two who worked out many technical details, including those related to nuclear-related research and development (R&D). As a result, Iran has accepted limits on its R&D activities for the next 10 years, with a very detailed schedule of how Iran should operate its centrifuges during this period.

After Lausanne, however, and to the surprise of the Iranians, the US came up with the idea of limiting Iran´s enrichment of uranium to two percent. Since this limit was never raised in Lausanne, Iranians suspect that the US acted in bad faith, i.e. not raised the issue of two percent out of a concern that such a demand could prevent the deal and, consequently, the concessions Iran was ready to make to the P5+1 at the time.

Iranians accept as valid the principle of “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.” Thus, in itself the introduction of new demands does not necessarily augur an inevitable break-up of the talks. But it complicates them, since this is a multilateral negotiation, and the introduction of new demands by one side can open a Pandora’s box as other sides also renege on their commitments. For example, Iranians can demand to increase the number of centrifuges they are allowed to run in Natanz from 5000 to, say, 7000. The other side would naturally object, wasting valuable time and undermining trust.

Another example of the US stepping outside the Lausanne framework is the demand to stop the mechanical tests of centrifuges. Such tests are part of the R&D efforts in Iranian universities. They have nothing to do with the production of the fissile material. To open the way for enrichment, gas needs to be injected into the centrifuge, but Iran has voluntarily decided not to do so, as long as negotiations are ongoing. So, there is no risk of enrichment. But banning mechanical tests would mean imposing unreasonable limits on R&D, which Iranians would never accept.

Pushing Iran Too Far? 

Some European partners in the P5+1, notably France, have seconded these US demands. Pursuing a more secure deal is in itself a legitimate goal, but the P5 +1 should be careful not to overplay their hand. There are limits to what Iranians are prepared to accept. And although they are clearly interested in a deal, they also have repeatedly made it clear they are not desperate to get one, if it is seen as infringing on their rights under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). It would therefore seem wiser for the P5+1 to concentrate their efforts on getting Iran to ratify the Additional Protocol to the NPT, or at least start applying it provisionally as a confidence-building measure.

And it would be healthy not to indulge in an overly legalistic approach to drafting the final document. No international political agreement is perfect in the sense of blocking forever all pathways to achieving a goal, if the other side has strong political will and incentive to achieve it. Otherwise, in the words of a senior Iranian official involved in the talks, it is not an agreement between equals, but an “act of surrender” by one of the sides. Since there is no evidence that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons, excessive demands are both unnecessary and counter-productive.

A credible explanation for this toughening of the US position is the Obama administration´s desire to manage the domestic and international opponents of the deal: Republicans in Congress as well as Israel and the Gulf monarchies. Indeed, the President Obama, after inviting the Gulf allies to do some introspection in his remarkable interview with The New York Times’ Thomas Friedman, spent a lot of time reassuring them about ‘”Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region.” The pinnacle of this effort was the Camp David meeting with the Gulf princes.

But, in the end, US has to decide what is more important: to achieve a deal with Iran that could potentially lead to a more functional relationship between the two countries, or appease its domestic and Middle Eastern constituencies. In fact, Saudi and Qatari adventurism in Syria and Yemen ought to make it clear for the administration that any ideas of a “new equilibrium” or power balance in the region that it might entertain will not work, because its allies are not interested in it. These Gulf allies want to keep Iran isolated, which has suited their interests for so long: why bother about domestic reform and empowering their own disenfranchised populations when the blame for any problem can safely be laid at Iran’s door? Unless the US is ready to fundamentally reassess its relationships with its Gulf allies, no amount of appeasement will work. But overzealous attempts to reassure the allies can undermine the prospects for a deal and a broader normalization of relations between the US and Iran.

In fact, the whole narrative of ‘concerned allies’ refers only to Israel and Gulf monarchies. But America’s closest allies are European nations, with which it shares common values, trade, and a long-standing security alliance. Three of them—UK, France, Germany— participate alongside America in nuclear talks with Iran. Yet their voice is virtually absent from the US debate on Iran, in contrast to the aggressive, well-funded Israeli and Saudi lobbying efforts against the deal. Instead of waiting for the outcome of the US internal debate, the EU must assume a leadership role in pushing for a deal that is so obviously in its interests. Perhaps after the EU lawmakers visited Tehran, their next stop should be Washington DC to make a strong case in the US Congress for a mutually acceptable and enforceable agreement with Iran.

Photo: Elmar Brok, chair of the European Parliament’s foreign policy committee, meets Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif (photo by Meghdad Madadi)

This article reflects the personal views of the author and not necessarily the opinions of the European Parliament.

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Eldar Mamedov

Eldar Mamedov has degrees from the University of Latvia and the Diplomatic School in Madrid, Spain. He has worked in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Latvia and as a diplomat in Latvian embassies in Washington D.C. and Madrid. Since 2007, Mamedov has served as a political adviser for the social-democrats in the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament (EP) and is in charge of the EP delegations for inter-parliamentary relations with Iran, Iraq, the Arabian Peninsula, and Mashreq.

4 Comments

  1. To all the proponents of a deal with the Iranians: Israel has no interest in war, but it will do what it has to do (hopefully) to prevent the Iranians from achieving a nuclear weapon, primarily because Iran has repeatedly threatened to annihilate Israel.

  2. Eldar Memedov, thank you for a fair and balanced analysis of the question. It is clean from Americans’ type of arguments contaminated heavily by Israeli “interests” which is nothing less than a war turn,fragmented Iran in blood. Very rightly pointed out that the Europeans must participate more actively in the negotiations and remind the US that its timid attitudes towards Israeli sabotage would lead to disaster. Mr.Memedov should also point out the unbelievably passive role of Russia and specially China in the negotiations. They might as well leave the group to avoid any blame or responsibility !!
    Ron Hawk pointed out that Mr.Obama’s “appeasement ” policy would not achieve his goals but the aims of Anti-Iranian Arab states and Israel which is pushing the negotiations to a dead end and then concentrating on pushing the US and its allies to attack Iran,with Israel on the fringes to be able to claim a “victory” for “SUPER ZIONISTS”.
    Khosrow’s comment is Khosrawani !!! Excellent. The world must know that there are serious efforts by Israel and its new “Allies “, the Arab Sheikhs, are making every effort to derail the negotiations and impose a bloody war on Iran and the west. Obama administration and europeans must take their responsibilities seriously and conclude a reasonable and honourable agreement before it comes to nothing but war and bloodshed.
    Europeans plus Russia and China must take their role and responsibilities serious in the negotiations and stop being passive observers. As it is going ,it seems that the negotiations are between Iran and US ,with the active but invisible participation of Israel with the final say .
    As for France,they are trying to act independent and get a bigger share of the loots that are expected to come!! It is their habitual foreign policy, though proven a failure time and time !! Must not be taken too seriously !!

  3. 1-The new demands have hallmarks of Israeli tactics in order either to prevent the deal or to DISTRACT Iran from truly challenging the West’s previous demands that were already forcing Iran to give in too much in 2014. As we have seen Israelis in their negotiations with the Palestinians always demand too much concession, in order to give too little to the Palestinians and to maintain Israel’s unlawful domination.

    Given the nuclear ‘armed’ countries such as Israel, Pakistan, Indian and the West whose military sites no outside force has the right to even demand to inspect, and Israel threatening to launch preemptive nuclear attack on Iran, the 2014 demands by the P5+1 already stand as an insult to our intelligence in Iran and should be challenged. But the ENERGY that will be wasted to challenge the NEW DEMANDS and the TIME that Iran should be using for constructive negotiation to challenge the unreasonable 2014 demands, instead of arguing about new ones, might exhaust and distract the Iranian negotiators who might eventually give in to accepting the unreasonable 2014 Israeli drafted agreement.

    2-The repetitive Western use of the “DESTABILIZING” role attributed to Iran, in relation to Bahrain, Yemen, Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon, also Syria, signifies the American colonial mentality: the exclusive right to name the world ONLY according to the First World: the Western rights to ‘Occupation, Domination, Subjugation and Collective Punishment’ (be it in Palestine, Bahrain, Yemen, Iraq, …), in negation of the Third World conception of ‘Liberation, Justice, Dignity and Rights to Exist’. The ‘destabilizing’ adjective confirms not only the Western conceptions of ‘Human Rights’ do not apply to the oppressed in these countries but the West shares the Sunnis mentality whose antiquated flawed conceptions of Muslims and Heretics have left millions displaced, wounded and dead and turned the Middle East into a training ground for the Arab and Western soldiers.

    3- The influence of the Saudi and Israeli LOBBYING on the US President also highlights the American public’s misconception of American Independence since their foreign policies are decided by foreign powers and foreign money! The hypocrisy of the Western Parliaments, Western National Assemblies, Senates and Congresses cannot be overstated given their rationalization of their irrational colonial foreign policies: the P5+1 ignoring Israel’s nuclear arsenal are concerned with the “Iranian bomb” while the West is busy with “double standard” policies of the ‘First World’ deciding for the ‘Third World’ in the name of ‘international laws’ and ordinary Arabs and their children are slaughtered daily: what does not interest the West AT ALL is millions of CHILDREN IN THE MIDDLE EAST BEING TRAUMATIZED, and their FUTURE; what concern MANY in the West and its allies Israel, Saudi, Gulf States and are impatiently waiting for: massive carnage and bloodshed in Iran. Shame on the Saudi and Israeli Lobby! But what can we say about France and Saudi, Britain and the Gulf Monarchies, and their complicity? Is France any different from the US?

  4. “After Lausanne, however, and to the surprise of the Iranians, the US came up with the idea of limiting Iran´s enrichment of uranium to two percent. Since this limit was never raised in Lausanne, Iranians suspect that the US acted in bad faith…”

    “A credible explanation for this toughening of the US position is the Obama administration´s desire to manage the domestic and international opponents of the deal: Republicans in Congress as well as Israel and the Gulf monarchies. ”

    Now this is what appeasement is, appeasement of the pro-war, anti-deal coalition of the Arab and Israeli regimes. If the deal falls through because of these new demands and the world goes to war over this, history will blame Obama’s appeasement of the war lobby. If there is to be the discussion of “Munich”, “Chamberlain”, and “appeasement’, this should be the context, not that idiotic and inflated “Iran is Germany” analogy.

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