Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Tuesday, March 31st, 2020

Less Promising Than It Appears


Less Promising Than It Appears

Since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, the last decade has internationally proved highly difficult for Iranian government. Other than political isolation and international pressures because of violation of human rights and some international regulations, the controversial nuclear issue has grabbed world attention. With significant vicissitudes in the course of last decade, peaceful means has failed to stop the country from carrying out nuclear activities which are said to have aimed at producing atomic weapons.

Rebuffing accusations, Islamic Republic officials say they only want to make use of nuclear power for peaceful purpose. In the latest move to encourage Iran to put an end to international concerns on its suspicious nuclear project, Russia has put forward a plan which is apparently welcomed by Ahmadinejad government. In his latest statements on nuclear issue, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called nuclear weapons a waste of money. Going to receive a top Russian security official who was in Tehran for crisis mediation talks, Ahmadinejad said he was looking to build a closer relationship with Moscow and expecting to see the Russian-built Bushehr nuclear power plant — Iran's first — start producing electricity next year, after many delays.

His comments came as Russia's Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev opened two-day talks in Tehran during which he is expected to meet his Iranian counterpart and Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi. Patrushev also met President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who welcomed the Russian proposal, according to Iran's official IRNA news agency. Patrushev's visit comes amid continuing efforts by Russia to revive Iran's negotiations with Western powers over its suspected nuclear weapons program. Moscow has previously balanced pressure on Tehran to engage in more open negotiations with condemnation of Western sanctions and some calls for a tougher international approach. Medvedev last met Ahmadinejad on June 15, 2011 in Kazakhstan during talks in which Russian officials said he urged Iran to adopt a more constructive position toward the West.

Having explored Russian proposal which is aimed to serve the purpose of normalizing relations between Iran and the west, Iran has demonstrated willingness to resume talks. Iran's top nuclear negotiator said Tuesday that a Russian proposal "can be a basis to start negotiations" on its disputed nuclear program that have been stalled since January. Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited Washington last month and presented a proposal to settle international concerns regarding Iran's nuclear programs.  Under the proposal, Iran would answer various International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) questions regarding its program, and in return Iran would receive progressive easing of sanctions. 

"The proposal by our Russian friends can be a basis to start negotiations for regional and international cooperation, specifically in the field of peaceful nuclear activities," negotiator SaeedJalili said on Iran's state TV. Jalili made the comments after holding two rounds of talks with Russia's Security Council chief, Nikolai Patrushev in Tehran last Tuesday. The two sides have not gone into details about the proposal. The U.S. has worked with the Russians on the plan. "What we are looking for from Iran has not changed," Victoria Nuland, U.S. State Department spokeswoman said last Monday. "And we welcome any Russian effort to persuade Iran that it's time to change course and meet its international obligations."

Following long vacillation, Iran has finally decided to adopt a positive attitude toward Russia's new "step-by-step" proposal to end the Iran nuclear standoff. A recurring feature of the Russian-Iranian relationship is that it mostly languishes on the horizon but can be trusted to move to the center stage whenever there is a criticality in the Middle East situation. Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi made a point recently in an interview with the Russian media when he described Iran as the "most significant neighbor" of Russia, which stands in the way of the Western strategy to encircle Russia.

Moscow has been critical of the recent spate of unilateral Western sanctions on Iran, and in contrast to the US's coercive approach is considerably more interested in exploring avenues to restart the dormant Iran multilateral talks with the "Iran Six" nations (ie, the UN Security Council's Permanent Five - the US, France, China, Russia and the United Kingdom - plus Germany). Lavrov's initiative has also sparked speculation in Tehran over Moscow's real motives, with some analysts attributing it to Russia's determination to steal the torch of regional diplomacy from Turkey and play a more proactive role in resolving regional crises.

A number of other Iranian analysts have suspected yet another Russian ploy to "bargain with the US over Iran", as it has done repeatedly in the past. For example, Moscow's turnaround on the contract to provide Iran with the sophisticated S-300 air defense system continues to be a source of unhappiness with the Kremlin.

Pinpointing effectiveness of Russia's proposal, some analysts say the proposal has the potential to bring a breakthrough in the stalled talks between Iran and six world powers. The last talks in January in Istanbul, Turkey, failed without even an agreement on a new date for negotiations. However, Recent events have shown that Iran continues to increase its enrichment capability in incremental but significant steps.  Iran announced in July that it is in the process of installing 164-machine cascades of advanced centrifuges into its pilot facility at the Natanz enrichment site. 

Iran has also stated that it intends on installing the advanced centrifuges at the formerly covert Fordow enrichment near Qom within the next few months.  Iran continues to produce and stockpile 19.75 percent enriched uranium and has announced plans to triple these production levels.  This steady expansion of Iran's enrichment program represents a steady increase in its capability to more quickly make HEU for nuclear weapons. Experts say the Russian proposal risks offering Iran enrichment under greater supervision, a minimal condition that is unlikely to have any significant impact on Iran's move toward a nuclear weapons capability or, ultimately, nuclear weapons.  Moreover, this offer ignores that Iran is steadily developing the capability to rapidly make HEU mostly under IAEA supervision.

Stressing on this very dark side of the scenario, Washington Post wrote, "For years it was assumed that economic sanctions and diplomacy would produce a pliable negotiating partner in Iran. But Iran's truculence has effectively undermined the once-popular notion, while a degree of confusion and consternation has gripped the international community." And proposing a way out, the paper added, "the often-unstated hope is that denial of critical technologies and sabotage can slow the Islamic Republic's nuclear program until, somehow, an alternative strategy, or an agreement, emerges."

The proposal, demonstrating Russia's concern on Iran's position at regional and international level, can be better understood in view of the recent socio-political developments in the Middle East. Alike Iran, Russia explicitly demonstrates concern on US's increasing part in recent regional changes. Trying to circumvent US's unilateralism, the two countries have recognized necessity of a stronger response to regional and global matters. Russian proposal, a good element to understand her policies over regional changes, may prove effective to resume talks between Iran and the world six powers. However, related annals suggest less promising outcomes.

Nasruddin Memati is the permanent writer of the Daily Outlook Afghanistan. He can be reached at outlookafghanistan@gmail.com

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