Kayhan Barzegar: before progress in nuclear talks, “balance” of expectations must be reached

In an interview posted on Iran Review, Kayhan Barzegar, the Director of the Institute for Middle East Strategic Studies at Tehran’s Islamic Azad University, argues that until mutual agreement is reached on the issues of strangulating U.S.-led sanctions and Iran’s insistence to preserve its right to enrich uranium, substantial progress is unlikely to result. He also states that the P5+1 countries don’t hold the same consensus in terms of expectations about Iran’s nuclear program and that someone has to give before mutual agreement is attainable. I’ve posted an excerpt below but the entire interview is worth a read. (His argument in Foreign Affairs from February about why “Iran’s nuclear program will not live or die because of economic sanctions” is also useful for those who are interested in the Iranian perspective.)

Tehran Emrooz: It seems that the trajectory of Iran’s nuclear issue has changed. At the beginning, the complete halt of the whole Iranian nuclear program was on the agenda, but now the issue of trust-building tops the discussion, which in turn shows a type of change in the West’s approach towards the venture. With this in mind, what do the current nuclear negotiations look like? And does the Western agreement to enter into talks with Iran once again mean that the West intends to start them from the second step that is accepting Iran as a nuclear state?

Kayhan Barzegar: In my view, the P5+1 is gradually coming to terms with the existing reality of Iran’s nuclear program and simply tries to manage and control the progress degree of the program by means of holding negotiations from the position of power. I think Iran is ready to cooperate, but again there is the issue of the level of cooperation and the other side’s intention. Here, the main challenge between the two sides is their differences on the negotiations agenda. The West’s view, dominated by the American approach, asserts that the West should force Iran to change its nuclear policies via slapping tough sanctions against it and accordingly they hope such a policy shift will ultimately take place. These harsh sanctions include economic embargos and intense political pressure which are enforced both in the framework of international institutions such as the UN Security Council and by means of unilateral measures.

Now the new challenge that has even complicated the issue is that the European Union has politically aligned itself with the United States over the Iranian nuclear program and hopes to change Iran’s nuclear direction in this way. At present, the West seeks to focus only on Iran’s nuclear issue during the negotiations, but Iran sees the settlement of this controversy in the broader context of general and comprehensive security issues in the region. In other words, there is a difference of perspective here and it is based upon this difference that whenever Iran enters into talks over its nuclear activities, it strives to broaden the scope of the negotiations and connect them to the general security issues such as the peaceful use of nuclear energy and even regional peace and security. In this context, the enrichment of uranium in Iran is raised as an irreversible issue and Tehran’s most important bargaining card in the course of negotiations. The Western view, however, seeks the suspension of uranium enrichment as a confidence-building measure and as the main feature of the so-called serious talks. This is the principal point of difference between the two sides.

Tehran Emrooz: So with the situation you described, there should not be any hope for a successful negotiations and like the past the future talks is doomed to fail because the two sides are likely to stand on their current position. What do you think?

Kayhan Barzegar: Well, it depends. To my mind, the very fact that talks are repeatedly postponed indicates that both sides are trying to work out the agenda according to which they should engage in negotiations. From the Iranian perspective, enriching uranium on Iran’s territory is irreversible and non-negotiable. The P5+1 members are experiencing, in a broader context, an internal challenge as to how they should come to terms with this issue. Along these lines, the Europeans, Americans, Russians and the Chinese are trying to reach a point of balance and determine from where they should start the upcoming talks with Iran. If the West’s current position does not change or they do not show any creativity to change it, the negotiations will most probably get nowhere.

All these factors taken into account, now the fundamental questions concerns how a balance can be achieved within the P5+1 group between the American approach, which is the dominant trend and primarily views Iran’s nuclear program from the standpoint of deterrence and weaponization, European approach, which to some extent accepts the legitimacy of uranium enrichment on Iran’s soil, and the Russian as well as Chinese approaches, which slightly differs and emphasizes the right of Iran to conduct peaceful nuclear activities and holds that imposition of further sanctions on Iran will only complicate the issue and will not be helpful at this stage. If such a balance is struck, I think the negotiations can make progress. At any rate, Iran will always be interested in negotiations because it can express its demands in the course of the talks.

Read more here.

Jasmin Ramsey

Jasmin Ramsey is a journalist based in Washington, DC.



  1. As an American i want to know everything that the Iranian government would like to see from negociations. Dialogue is a two way street. my wish is for the US government to be a honest broaker with Iran with the thoughts of the Iranian people in mind.

  2. There is a desperate problem here. Israel has been a very bad neighbour in the middle east and has ignored UN resolutions designed to put it back on agreeable ground… I think the best thing the US could do is overcome its vocal Zionist lobby and point its nukes at Tel Aviv to persuade Israel that it needs to become a better neighbour and that Iran doesn’t need nuclear weapons because the US has it covered.

    Nothing will stop one or several Muslim nations developing or buying nuclear weapons with their increasingly valuable oil outputs; delay is all that can be achieved. The trick is to make the dusty old idea of “mutual assured destruction” not seem attractive to these states because international diplomacy (voiced in UN resolutions) is respected on pain of mass destruction – even if this time that might mean the annihilation of the Israeli peoples… that would still be better than the entire middle east feeling it had nothing lose from the mutually assured destruction gambit.

  3. Brian,
    Good point. Larijani started this conversation last week with his comment to Christine Amanpour that Iran wants mutual moves. So what might Iran actually want?

    In no particular order, Iran surely wants:

    1. an end to insulting and threatening remarks by U.S. officials;
    2. an end to economic warfare against it;
    3. an end to the terrorist campaign against it that is apparently being funded by Israel and implemented by the MEK;
    4. recognition that it has the legal right to refine medical-grade uranium;
    5. serious negotiations on the range of bilateral issues, e.g., Iraq situation, illegal narcotics flow from Afghanistan, how to avoid a naval accident in the crowded Persian Gulf;
    6. the word of the president that no aggression across the Persian Gulf will be aided or perhaps even permitted by the U.S.;
    7. the removal of U.S. bunker-busting bombs that are only for starting a war and have no defensive purpose from the hands of Israel;
    8. an end to the U.S. campaign to prevent Pakistan from completing the pipeline to import Iranian gas, which Pakistanis desperately need to combat their energy shortage.

    The list of points on which Washington could easily negotiate with Tehran is endless. It is no wonder that Larijani admitted that Iran does not trust the U.S.

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