Lifting the Siege on Iran
Differing interpretations are the stuff of diplomatic engagement. No power wants to say that it has been overwhelmed in the negotiations by another power – all those who leave the deal with their signatures on the paper would like to make the most of what they signed. A factual look at the deal indicates that Iran got what it had always wanted, namely, an implicit right to enrich uranium for its civilian nuclear programme, and that the West got what it always wanted, namely, a guarantee that Iran would not move towards a military nuclear programme (something Iran has always denied). In other words, and after all those visits to Geneva, we are back to the 1990s when this dispute began to escalate, and we are back to a discussion about the procedures of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) allowances for nuclear energy and for surveillance against nuclear weaponisation. It tells you something about the stand-off over Iran that it was never about the substance of nuclear energy-weapons and always about geopolitical power in and around Iran.
By 2003, the US government had overthrown two of Iran’s historical enemies (the Taliban and the Ba’ath regime of Saddam Hussein) and removed the pressure on Iran’s two most tense borders (with Afghanistan and Iraq). Iran’s reform-oriented government led by Mohammed Khatami opened a dialogue through a road map that came to Washington via the Swiss Interest Section in Tehran. Swiss Ambassador Tim Guldimann sent a note along with the road map pointing out that the Iranians were eager for a deal then but they feared that “a lack of trust in the US imposes on them to proceed very carefully and very confidentially”. Guldimann said he “got the clear impression that there is a strong will of the regime to tackle the problem with the US now”. Iran’s UN ambassador at the time was Javid Zarif, whose draft road map from 2003 reads very much like the agreement of 2013, including the section on “full transparency for security that there are no Iranian endeavours to develop or possess Weapons of Mass Destruction, full cooperation with IAEA”. The Bush administration tossed the note in the trash, set up a confrontation with Iran in the IAEA (assisted by India in its two votes of 2005), encouraged Iranian hard-liners to build up their nuclear capacity as an insurance against an attack (as North Korea had done, whereas Iraq had not) and drew sustenance from the kind of Punch and Judy politics that followed with Ahmadinejad, Netanyahu and Bush – caricatures of testosterone politics.
Iran’s two other historic enemies – Saudi Arabia and Israel – have not changed their stance vis-à-vis Tehran. For them, the destruction of the Iranian regime is their policy, a goal that today recedes further into the horizon. Over the course of these four decades, Iran has become an important political actor in its region – not just through a politics of sectarianism (as a political centre of Shi’ism) but also through its energy diplomacy and its resolute posture against US (and other Western) intervention. As the US tries to extricate itself from its two failed wars (Afghanistan and Iraq), Iran has emerged as one of the main political forces that could provide the basis for stability. Any post-US Afghan political settlement will require Iranian involvement – not only because of the close ties between western Afghanistan and Iran but also because half of Afghanistan’s oil comes from Iran and the pipeline agreements with Pakistan, India and central Asia would require Afghan participation. Iranian diplomacy and power will also be crucial to any policy in Syria, where the civil war has tilted in large part to favour Iran’s ally, the regime of Bashar al-Assad. There will be no possibility of any kind of political deal in Syria without Iran’s diplomatic involvement, one that is far more influential in Damascus than that of Russia. Washington is aware of these factors.
In 2003, Bush assumed that the US military force would tilt the balance of forces in west Asia towards the US. Things unravelled very quickly. The Arab Spring, which has a much longer history of internal struggles in the various Arab countries, is nonetheless drawn from considerable popular anger against the undemocratic regimes that collaborated with the West. By the time Obama came to office in 2009, US power in the region had declined considerably – its inability to force the issue in Syria is not just a mark of the complexity of geopolitics but also of the weakened state of US influence. US allies in west Asia – Saudi Arabia and Israel – are of course more prone to create instability in the region than to bring peace. If anything it is Iran that will be able to manage some of the deep crises in the region. Out of weakness – political and economic – come the P5+1 to the table in Geneva. The bluster had worn off. The language of ultimatums and military force seemed anachronistic. The Iranians cleverly have Zarif, the former UN ambassador, as their foreign minister – and he brought his long-term memory of previous attempts to the table as well as his genial demeanour. It was hard to caricature Zarif as the scowling mullah, not with Zarif and his boss, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani conducting clever Twitter diplomacy for the world’s press. The advantage was always with Iran.
(Source : epw.in)