Today, the Western powers, Russia and China will convene with Iranian representatives in Baghdad for the second round of talks regarding the latter's nuclear program. Although the main issue on the table will be the halting of Iran's 20% uranium enrichment, the chief objective of the West should revolve around bringing Russia and China in line with the West’s economic and political pressure if and when Iran would indeed return to fulfilling its obligations toward the international community.
Many in the West have high expectations for seeing real progress in Baghdad, believing the pressure that the sanctions are putting on the Iranian regime and the threat of more sanctions to come (particularly the European oil embargo that is scheduled to take effect in July) would force Iran to give up its 20% enrichment plans. However, based upon past experience and on the Iranian perception of the nuclear issue, any Iranian concession will be no more than a temporary tactical retreat and because of this, the US and the European Powers should focus on setting the pieces for the next "nuclear" clash with the Islamic Republic.
The Baghdad talks and the Istanbul talks, which took place in April, are the last in a lengthy and tedious negotiation between Iran and the international community regarding the Islamic Republic's nuclear program. Looking back at past interactions between Iran and the international community, Iran's actions follow a pattern, in which the country disregards past agreements.
For example, in October 2003, after the talks between Iran and EU foreign ministers, the heads of the Islamic Republic declared: "[Iran] has decided voluntarily to suspend all uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities as defined by the IAEA". There is no need to say that Iran never fulfilled this declaration. The same thing happened in 2010, following negotiations between Iran and the West, Iran agreed to send its enriched uranium abroad in exchange for nuclear fuel; Iran’s actions did not match its words.
Moreover, taking into consideration the Iranian revolutionary culture and identity, it is hard to imagine the possibility of a long and standing agreement in which the Islamic Republic gives up its nuclear ambition and disdain toward Western demands. The Iranian nuclear discourse emphasizes such ideas as anti-hegemonism, Iranian leadership, self-sufficiency, pride, justice and sacrifice.
This "cultural" framing of the nuclear issue constructs the nuclear negotiation with the West as a "zero-sum" game in which any concession that is made by Iran is a direct win for its "hegemonic" rivals and vice-versa. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad put it into words when he said: "The Westerners are not concerned about the existence of our nuclear activities; they are concerned about the collapse of their hegemony and hollow power."
For this reason, while the impact of the sanctions will probably force Iran to make some minor concessions during the current round of negotiations, if only in order to ease the sanctions against her, these concessions will be no more than a temporary and tactical retreat. Sooner or later the Islamic Republic would return to its enriching activities.
Accordingly, in order for the current talks to have any meaning in the long run, the US and European powers must insist that any agreement with Iran be put forward only after the attainment of a clear and binding understanding with Russia and China on how to deal with Iran not fulfilling international obligations.
The US and Europe must make any delay in further sanctions or easing of current sanction conditional not only on Iran's upholding of any pledges, but also and especially on an official declaration from Russia and China affirming that, if Iran breaches its international agreements and obligations, then Moscow and Beijing will relinquish their automatic support for Iran in the UN Security Council and in turn cooperate with the West in implementing a full-scale sanction regime (including a full oil and gas embargo) on Iran.
Such a game changer would give the international community powerful non-military leverage, which might actually deter the Islamic Republic and truly influence its future decision-making regarding the development of nuclear weapons.
Sami Kronenfeld is an international relations MA student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.