Edging towards a deal
Yassamine Mather reports on the conclusion of Iran’s negotiations with the P5+1 powers
Another week, another city
In the weeks leading up to June 30 2015, it was clear that the real deadline for Iran’s nuclear negotiations with the P5+1 powers was July 9. For the Obama administration, the potential resolution of the conflict with Iran will play a significant part in the president’s legacy, and from this point of view, the less time opponents of the deal in Congress have to mobilise, the better. If a deal is reached by July 9, they will only have 30 days. After that, they would have 60 days, taking into account the summer recess. That would give a better chance to Republican and Democrat allies of Israel and Saudi Arabia to derail the agreement.
From the first days of this round of negotiations it was clear that, for all the claims of unity, each of the 5+1 powers were following their own agenda. The European countries - Germany and Britain, and to a lesser extent France - are keen to resume economic relations with Iran, while Russia and China, hoping for arms deals, seem to support the Islamic Republic’s additional demands for an end to the arms embargo. For its part, the US administration is under pressure to take a hard line - or at least appear to take a hard line - and achieve, in the words of secretary of state John Kerry, a “good deal”.
Of course, what is a “good deal” for the United States, and by extension Saudi Arabia and Israel, will be a bad deal for Iran, which is why there appeared to be deadlock in the last hours of the negotiations. Earlier this week Iran and the P5+1 had drafted a document addressing the contentious issue of how the pace and timing of sanctions relief would proceed, though US officials claimed that there was still more work to be done. But on July 6, western foreign ministers gave ‘unofficial briefings’ to the media, claiming that Iran’s demand for the lifting of all UN sanctions on weapons sales had become a major sticking point. If these rumours are true, foreign minister JavadZarif (and president Hassan Rowhani) had taken an even harder position than that of the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei. His maximum demands, declared more than a week before the start of the latest negotiations, only mentioned economic and banking sanctions. It is assumed that this new, harder position was taken during Zarif’s unexpected return to Tehran last week.
Russia has already sold advanced anti-aircraft S-300 missiles to Iran, following the Geneva agreement in April 2015. The original $800 million deal signed in 2007 was suspended because the US and Israel objected, and then in 2010 the UN security council imposed more sanctions on Iran because of its nuclear programme, and delivery of the missiles was frozen. By the evening of July 7 senior Iranian negotiator Abbas Araghchi was claiming that 95% of the agreement had been finalised. However, there was one issue remaining - that of the arms embargo.1
For the US this is one red line it cannot cross. Saudi Arabia, the Persian Gulf states and Israel are all vehemently opposed to the sale of ground-to-air and ground-to-ground missiles, especially as it is likely that some of these missiles will end up in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon.
Inside Iran, the continuation of the sanctions is causing frustration and despair. In May 2015, the centre for international and security studies at Maryland University conducted a poll of the Iranian people, in collaboration with the University of Tehran and IranPoll.com. Although opinion polls are often subjective - they depend on the question being asked and the timing - this particular study shows that two thirds of Iranians are opposed to nuclear weapons, that eight in 10 approve of the goal of eliminating them and establishing a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East. In addition a substantial majority agreed with what was known at the time of the western conditions for an agreement - only one in six opposed. The study also found that nearly three in four were optimistic that Iran and the P5+1 would arrive at a deal and hoped sanctions would be lifted soon.2
According to another study, conducted by the Program for Public Consultation at the University of Maryland, “61% of Americans support an agreement that would limit Iran’s enrichment capacity and impose additional intrusive inspections in exchange for the lifting of sanctions. Only 36% support ending the current negotiations and increasing sanctions in an effort to get Iran to stop all uranium enrichment.”
So why is there so much opposition to the proposed deal both from within Iran’s Islamic Republic and legislators in the Senate and Congress? In Iran the opposition comes from some of the most corrupt sections of the regime - mainly the conservative factions, who have profited from the black market resulting from sanctions. The billions of dollars of wealth accumulated by allies and officials of former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad explain why they are amongst the harshest critics of these, and indeed any, negotiations. They have not been concerned about the details - their main worry is the protection of their business interests, many of which rely on the continuation of sanctions.
Then there are the exiles. Iranian opponents of the deal, some of whom were frequently present outside the hotel in Vienna where the negotiations were taking place, are often beneficiaries of various regime-change funds associated with the US, European and Arab countries. They and their groups, some claiming to be on the left, have flourished in the last few years. In fact their political positions have been very close to those of Israel and Saudi Arabia. These exiles fail to realise that the current sanctions against Iran have nothing to do with the country’s abuse of human rights, women’s rights or workers’ rights. If the US or its European partners were really concerned about such issues, their main regional allies would hardly be Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Meanwhile, some bizarre comments are coming from Iran’s apologists - reminiscent of the infamous statements defending the regime’s policy of forced transgender operations as a victory for homosexuals! Today ‘leftwing’ supporters of the Islamic Republic are claiming that the country’s stance on the nuclear issue should be considered ‘heroic resistance’.
In reality billions have been wasted on redundant, second-hand technology to maintain unsafe nuclear enrichment plants, while at the same time Iran has faced the most paralysing sanctions - exposing the disastrous effects of its complete economic dependence on the world capitalist order. Hundreds of thousands of workers have lost their jobs and tens of thousands of patients have died because of the shortage of proper medicines and equipment - all for 20%-enriched uranium, which the International Atomic Energy Agency then insisted had to be disposed of. A year ago the IAEA reported: “209.1kg of 20%-enriched UF6 held by Iran in January 2014 has now been either diluted or converted to uranium oxide.”3
What a waste of life, money and resources - proving once more that this third-world dictatorship’s ‘anti-western’ slogans are nothing but empty, dangerous rhetoric. After 36 and a half years of ‘anti-American’ slogans, the leaders of Iran’s Islamic republic are now dreaming of the day when the US embassy will reopen. As negotiations dragged on in Vienna, ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the Islamic republic’s former president, told The Guardian, “It was ‘not impossible’ that an American embassy could reopen in Tehran. But that depends on the behaviour of both sides.”4
One of the controversial issues in the current discussions is the inspection of Iran’s military bases by the IAEA. It is clear that the six world powers have made Iran an offer on this question.
Again according to unofficial briefings, the current proposal is that a commission would be set up to resolve disputes when the IAEA seeks access to certain sites. If Iran refuses access and the IAEA’s case is strong, then the commission would look into the issue and its decision based on a simple majority would be final in determining whether such an inspection was ‘legitimate’. In analysing this, sections of the press in Iran have pointed out the obvious: the kind of punitive sanctions Iran was facing had one raison d’être: regime change from above. If the Islamic republic accepts inspection of its military bases in exchange for the removal of sanctions, it would be ceding a major advantage to those contemplating such regime change.
According to deputy foreign minister Araghchi, previously “We never progressed as far as we have now; we never went so far in drafting. However, there are still differences.”5 When asked about the ‘red lines’ set by Khamenei and whether they made reaching a deal impossible, Zarif replied: “Nothing the supreme leader said is new; this is the consistent position of Iran from the day we started the negotiations.” On June 28, as negotiations were starting, a Twitter account allegedly belonging to Khamenei displayed a picture of Zarif and his team along with the text: “I recognise our negotiators as trustworthy, committed, brave and faithful.” In subsequent interviews with the international media Zarif has proudly referred to this.
However, Iranian conservatives see things differently: for example, ‘Shamisan’ has posted this message: “While the soldiers on the diplomatic front, with the backing of a nation, have taken on the enemy, some, instead of having sympathy with them, are playing another tune.” He said such people in their attitude to the US have tried “to depict an angel … instead of the great Satan”. And the problem is that “when you are sitting opposite an angel, you have no reason not to trust him or resist his aims.”6
If these talks result in a final agreement, European cities such as Vienna and Geneva will miss the ministerial gatherings around nuclear negotiations. They are good business for hotels, restaurants - and by all accounts brothels. According to the Reuters news agency, brothel owners in Vienna were looking forward to the extension of the talks. One brothel manager reportedly “declined to say who were his most frequent customers, but made clear that, as far as he was concerned, the longer the negotiations between Iran and six world powers drag on, the better”.7