by Zafar Bangash (Editorials, Crescent International Vol. 43, No. 5, Ramadan, 1435)
Iran is about to start a fresh round of talks with Western powers. What are the prospects of finalizing a deal? It will depend on how far Western powers are able to adopt a realistic attitude toward Iran’s peaceful nuclear program rather than living with illusions.
Iran is to resume talks about is nuclear program with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (P5+1) in the Austrian capital Vienna on July 2. The talks are scheduled to last until July 20 and clearly reflect a determination on the part of all participants to find an agreement acceptable to all sides.
The last round of talks ended on June 20 with both sides saying that while progress had been made, major differences remained. Would the new marathon talks bridge the wide gap between the two sides? One indication of the seriousness of both sides is that Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton would preside over the drafting of the comprehensive nuclear agreement. Ordinarily, such matters are left to legal experts but since critical decisions may have to be made, the presence of the two top negotiators will definitely help this process. It would, however, be premature to state that an agreement would be reached by July 20, the deadline stipulated in the Joint Plan of Action that was agreed in Geneva on November 24, 2013. After the last round of talks on June 20, Iran’s Foreign Minister Dr Zarif said: “We entered the phase of drafting the [final] accord, but we did not reach an agreement on the main issues.”
What are the “main issues”? Iran insists on its right to enrich uranium on its soil and has installed 19,000 centrifuges. The fuel prepared by these centrifuges will be used for medical research, producing medical isotopes, making fuel for the Bushehr nuclear power plant and for energy generation. All these are permitted under the nuclear Non-proliferation treaty (NPT) to which Iran is a signatory. The West demands that Iran reduce its centrifuges to a mere 4,000 to 5,000. The argument it has advanced—and this is something peddled by the western trio the US, France and Britain—is that they want to increase Iran’s breakout time for making a bomb. This nonsensical demand is actually dictated by the Zionist regime in occupied Palestine, the only state in the region to possess nuclear weapons, at least 200 of them. And it has refused to sign the NPT or open its facilities for international inspections.
Iran, on the other hand has opened its facilities to intrusive inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that has found absolutely no diversion of nuclear material from Tehran’s nuclear program. This, however, has not stopped pro-zionist elements in the US and France (the French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius is a well known Zionist and at times it is difficult to tell whether he is the foreign minister of France or of the Zionist state), from making scandalous allegations against the Islamic Republic. As part of the interim deal of November 2013, Iran also suspended some of its nuclear activities in order to show goodwill and to build trust. Yet, the West seems to misinterpret such measures as a sign of weakness and indulges in typical duplicitous talk. For instance, while the November 2013 interim deal clearly stipulated that a comprehensive deal would entail the complete lifting of all sanctions against Iran including those impose illegally by the US, some US officials, and think-tank wonks (Kenneth Pollock of Brookings Institution, for instance) are talking in terms of suspending but not lifting the sanctions. This would almost certainly derail the talks.
Following the June 20 talks, Dr Zarif admitted that Iran and the P5+1 remain divided on the “content” of the accord, stressing Tehran will continue to stand by its “views” which are in line with “international law.” He also called on Western powers to shed their “illusions.” It will be interesting to see whether in the new round of negotiations, the West has paid attention to this or it will continue to live under illusions.