Omid Memarian

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Iran-US Negotiation: Does it make any difference?

Omid Memarian: “Can Iran-US negotiations stop the insurgency in Iraq? If yes, how and if not, why?” Professor Said Mahmoudi LLD, Head of the Department of International Law at Stockholm University, and a very well known scholar on Iran, has answered exclusively to some questions of Berkeley Forum on possible negotiations between Iran and the U.S.

Can Iran-US negotiation stop the insurgency in Iraq? If yes, how and if not, why?”

In my view Iran and the US have different expectations from this round of negotiations. Even if stopping insurgencies can reasonably be an obvious common objective of both countries, but I doubt if the two countries agree on the causes of insurgencies. If you do not agree on the sources of the problem, you have hardly any possibility to come to an agreement on the solutions. United States is in a desperate situation in Iraq. They are ready to meet anybody, to break a deal on any issue just to get out of this inferno. Iran is a natural option in this situation. But this does not mean that US-expectations are very high. Another issue that should be remembered is that Iran’s possibilities to influence the political developments in Iraq seem to have been exaggerated. Many foreign observers take it for granted that since large portion of Iraqis are shia, and the clergy is very influential in Iraq, Iran may be in an extraordinary position to influence the turn of the events there. That is not necessarily the case. The present insurgency is not only due to the consolidation of power by the shai Iraqis to the disadvantage of sunnis. The insurgency is to a large part because of sunni’s lost of power irrespective which other groups now is taking over the political power. What I am trying to say is that no matter what shia Iraqis and Iran say and want, sunnies have their own reasons to continue resistance and fight against all foreign forces. Even when they attack shias, the ultimate target is foreign, and particularly, American presence in Iraq.

Seen in this perspective, I see little hope that negotiations between Iran and the US will lead to categorical changes in the security situation in Iraq. For these negotiations are of course of another significance. It is probably the most important foreign policy decision the Iranian leaders have taken after the Revolution. A formal and publicly announced negotiation with Iran’s chief enemy of course opens avenues for further talks in other areas of mutual interest. This is politically a sound decision, since having negotiations does not mean that you have normal political relations or you approve each other, but it certainly makes it possible for the parties to frankly and directly bring their positions to the attention of the other party. Due to the attitudes of lack of confidence between Iran and the US, most probably the planned negotiations cannot lead to any immediate tangible results. It will, however, pave the way for further contacts in near future irrespective of how the two countries feel for each other.

Is Iran's nuclear case, a failure for EU foreign policy? Because now it is out of control of EU and everybody knows they have no authority to do anything without the US?

The role of the European Union in Iran’s nuclear case should be assessed in a broader context. The three EU countries – UK, Germany and France – took a lead in this case toward the end of summer 2004. The reason then was that President Bush, almost sure that he would be re-elected and still very confident that his Iraqi project would succeed, had started to use the language of force against Iran. Both Iran and of course the European countries had taken the threats seriously. For EU it was important to prevent at any price the repetition of the case of Iraq where the USA finally decided to disregard the Security Council and to run its own race. The Troika of the EU did not want to lose the initiative to the USA this time. That was why they offered a deal to Iran, which is now known as the Paris agreement of November 2004, to negotiate with Iran on its nuclear program with the purpose of securing a suspension of all enrichment activities in return for a package of economic and political advantages for Iran.

For Iran, it was a very welcome move since, as I mentioned, the country, in the aftermath of Iraq occupation, felt the risk of American military operations imminent. Paris agreement gave Iran the time that the country needed to consolidate its position. As the time passed, the situation deteriorated in Iraq, Iran made a new assessment of its negotiating position, and refused the EU proposals as unacceptable. In retrospect, the EU has certainly failed in its efforts in this case. But one can say exactly the same as regards Russia. It is not so much the failure of EU, but the changing position of Iran, which is the reason. Iran’s changed position is partly due to a new administration, with new priorities and goals, and partly due to developments outside Iran.


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