In 2003, Iran sent a proposal to Washington to solve the issues around its nuclear program. In the Tehran and Paris agreements with the EU3, Iran committed to dealing with all outstanding nuclear issues, and both sides agreed to expand dialogue to important issues and common interests. However, the Bush Administration opposed the Iranian proposal and undermined the Iran-EU3 negotiations. Consequently, on 12 January 2006 the EU3 stated that “our discussions with Iran have reached an impasse”. This still continues.
To find a way out of the impasse, atlantic-community.org raised the question “What could a successful strategy for the transatlantic partners to overcome the deadlock on Iran's nuclear program look like?" It led to two memos by "negotiators" and "isolators". What isolators need to know is that, isolation and sanctions is a three decade old tested and failed strategy followed by the United States. Iran is much stronger now and there is no reason to believe that it will make any contribution to overcome the current deadlock.
With regard to the second memo, paying attention to the historical and international context of the problem, thinking about engagement with Iran as final objective of transatlantic partners, and suggesting concrete reciprocity are the right approach both to understand the problem and find a solution. They have also made good suggestions such as multilateral cooperation in the nuclear field, the provision of medical isotopes, lifting sanctions, normalization of relations between Iran and the US, etc.
However, the second memo regards Iranian enrichment as “illicit” and unilateral access to enrichment as a threat, which is not true. I agree with the necessity of reciprocal confidence building measures but we need to distinguish between real threats and imagined ones, by understanding strategic culture, behaviors and capabilities of the target country. In addition, the priorities of the issues and the timetable of the strategy need to be clarified more.
Reviewing agreements, negotiations and proposed packages between Tehran, EU3 (then 3+3) and even the US from 2003 to 2010, demonstrate that both sides have had broader targets from the beginning. They included outstanding nuclear issues, regional stability, terrorism, energy security and economic cooperation. Iranian readiness for long term cooperation on these important issues clearly shows that Iran wants to be regarded as a partner and not as a threat to EU-US nor regards them as a threat for itself. However, concentration on the nuclear issue has narrowed the dialogue and led to deadlock.
The Western media continuously quotes International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reports which state that Iran does not cooperate enough with them. Nevertheless, the West must realize that the IAEA reports "continue to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran."
The current transatlantic double track approach of pressure and negotiation, by strengthening Iranian mistrust toward US-EU, decreasing economic relations between the two sides and inviting more players to the problem, has weakened transatlantic influence on Iran and extended the deadlock. In addition, it has prevented further cooperation between Iran and the transatlantic partners in solving other non-nuclear outstanding issues, like Afghanistan, terrorism, drug-trafficking, as well as energy and regional security. At the same time, Tehran has been able to reach its desired nuclear target, increase its regional influence, and strengthen its relations with emerging powers.
Iran and the transatlantic partners have many common interests in contributing to peace and stability in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Central Asia, the Caucasus, the Persian Gulf, Iraq, the Arabian Peninsula, and the Middle East. Instead of wasting huge energy, time and capital to contain an illusionary threat, by changing their behavior toward Tehran, the transatlantic partners can achieve Iranian support and cooperation in dealing with regional problems that would benefit everyone. In doing so, they would attain a positive image in the region.
Restarting Iran-Transatlantic relations from common interests instead of concentrating on divisive opinions is the right approach for confidence building. According to Paris agreement “irrespective of progress on the nuclear use, the EU3 and Iran confirm their determination to combat terrorism, including the activities of Al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups…”
However, passing resolutions, imposing sanctions, using military threat etc. just deprives the transatlantic partners of Iranian cooperation. The main winners of these trends have been and will be local extremists and global opportunists like the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and the powers that try to hedge against the US and EU in the Middle East.
Iran has already taken enough steps to increase confidence: 2003 proposal to the US, implementation of additional protocol for two years, solving outstanding issues with IAEA, and finally the Tehran declaration to swap enriched uranium in Turkey. Furthermore, Iran is taking steps to contribute to peace and stability in Iraq and Afghanistan. The US and its partners did not appreciate any of these efforts and driven by emotional-ideological behavior, locked the door to the West while it is open to rising economies.
To end the stalemate, the peaceful Iranian nuclear program needs to be recognized and common interests must be detached from the nuclear issue and internal politics. Moreover, the nuclear issue should be left to the IAEA. The West needs to refrain from sending the wrong messages through sanctions and sabotage. If Iran and transatlantic alleys have been able to find common partners in Baghdad, Kabul and Ankara, they should be able to become common partners themselves.
Nabi Sonboli is a scholar at the Institute for Political and International Studies (IPIS), which was founded in 1983 in Tehran as one of the first think tanks in Iran after the Islamic Revolution in 1979. He is currently representing the institute in Berlin working on scientific cooperation.
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