Iran nuke talks: Deal or ordeal?

A long and difficult path lies ahead regardless of whether there's an interim deal, half a deal, or no deal at all.

    Head of Iranian Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi talks with Hossein Fereydoon, special assistant to the Iranian president [AP]
    Head of Iranian Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi talks with Hossein Fereydoon, special assistant to the Iranian president [AP]

    At best, the nuclear talks in Lausanne will culminate, if at all, in a "political understanding" or a "declaration of principles" of a sort.  

    Such an understanding will then lead to long and complex negotiations over each and every item that the two parties "understand" requires detailed agreement. This process could go well through June and beyond.

    Presidents Barack Obama and Hassan Rouhani have lots at stake in these negotiations and it's therefore paramount for them to reach an interim agreement, if only to buy themselves more time.

    Iran nuclear talks extend deadline

    The Iranian government needs the deal to lift the multi-layered sanctions in order to grow their economy and normalise relations with the international community. Such an outcome would eventually help the "reformist" government overcome the ultra-conservative sceptics of the regime.

    Threat of military action

    Indeed, the regime has much to benefit from such an opening that allows it to improve its standing domestically and in the region. Failure to reach a deal would lead to new tougher sanctions and ultimately to the threat of military action.

    For its part, the Obama administration wants a deal that ensures Iran doesn't become a "nuclear state" or develop nuclear weapons.

    By reaching such a deal without resorting to the use of force, Obama wants to make the larger and more important point that foreign policy is most effective and least costly when the US leads an international diplomatic effort that involves sticks and carrots, not bombs.

    According to a recent Washington Post poll, Americans, 2 to 1, support the president on this, although many don't believe Iran will stick to it.

    It's estimated that using force against Iran's nuclear programme would have paved the way to a full fledged war culminating in terrible death and destruction without setting back the enrichment process more than a year or two, all the while the US would pay heavily in both lives and dollars, perhaps up to $5 trillion.

    Fierce opposition

    And yet, expect the opposition forces in both countries to do what they do best, oppose a diplomatic solution. 

    Unlike the supporters of dialogue over the nuclear programme and other issues, the opponents of a deal enjoy decades of experience and master the discourse of doubt and demonisation of the other.

    If there's a deal, they will oppose it in every possible way on the grounds of "giving away too much for too little".

    And if there's no deal, they will rub it in with the "we told you so" mantra until they get their next confrontation or war.

    The Beau Rivage Palace Hotel in Lausanne, where talks are taking place [AP] 

    That's why, American and Iranian delegates might be listening to each other, but their eyes are directed to the home front.

    Both leaders need a sweet enough deal that allows them to win enough hearts and minds to withstand legislative and other pressures.

    Lausanne, Iran's Oslo?

    Iranian officials both in Switzerland and in Tehran have repeatedly underlined the importance of a comprehensive deal, while US officials emphasise the need for a conditional long-term process.

    US insistence on multi-phased, performance-based process with Iran reminds me of US-sponsored talks with the Palestinians stemming from the Oslo process. These are meant to keep Iran under probation and allow the US the final word on how and when Iran can be free of all threats of sanctions.

    The Obama administration emphasisses the need for "snap back sanctions" in case of Iranian violations of the signed deal, Iran's Ayatollah Khamenei has been unequivocal about full sanctions lift as a condition of a nuclear deal.

    One gets the impressions that Washington treats Iranians in similar ways it once treated the Palestinians. After demonising them and accusing them of terrorism, it suddenly took them off the terrorist list to become legitimate negotiations partners.

    Predictably, US mainstream media, citing the usual suspects with Middle Eastern sounding names, has been picking on Iran's negotiations mindset even though the Iranians proved to be formidable and pragmatic negotiators.


    However, Iran is a regional power not an occupied nation, and the ayatollahs are in a far stronger position than the PLO. 

    That's why they won't accept an open-ended process with no specific endgame, that involves safeguarding Iran's sovereignty to enrich uranium while lifting the sanctions and normalisation of Iran's status in the world. 

    Predictably, US mainstream media, citing the usual suspects with Middle Eastern sounding names, has been picking on Iran's negotiations mindset even though the Iranians proved to be formidable and pragmatic negotiators.

    Iranians are criticised for their obsession with "symbolism" merely because of insisting on their "sovereign rights", and for confusing ideology with technology because they reject western double standards.

    If or when basic Iranian demands regarding sovereignty and normalcy are met, Ayatollah Khamenei will in all likelihood accept a nuclear deal. But will America's self-designated Ayatollah?

    Netanyahu and US Congress

    Recalling Netanyahu's rude manoeuvre to speak to Congress, and his obnoxious lecturing of the American people about the naivete of their president and the dangers of their foreign policy towards Iran, the Israeli prime minister is unrelenting.

    He claims the deal, which has not been reached or signed yet, will pave the way to Iran's development and possession of nuclear weapons. And he's ready to use whatever dirty tricks, including continuously invoking the Holocaust to derail the talks.

    Alas, much of the Republican Right, including the main 2016 presidential candidates, as well as Israel's staunch friends among the Democrats support Netanyahu's stance.

    These extremist forces are bound to do all in order to torpedo whatever understanding is reached, finalised or otherwise, between the US and Iran in Lausanne. And are adamant at escalating the tensions if no deal is reached.

    The more delays in the talks, and the deeper the US delves into its 2016 elections, the weaker Obama becomes, and his ability to make grand decisions is undermined.

    That's why the P5+1 mechanism is very helpful to the Obama administration. Once a deal is reached and is enshrined in a UN Security Council resolution, it will be tougher for the US Congress or any future president to walk away from the deal.

    All of which, makes it timely, rational and perhaps more likely for the two sides to reach a deal soonest, or before April 14 when Congress is back in session; a deal that meets the minimum demands of both parties, but leaves the important issues for further discussion in the coming months.

    What effect that will have on Iran and the Middle East, is a subject for another day.

    Marwan Bishara is the senior political analyst at Al Jazeera.

    The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera



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