Talk is said to be cheap. However, talk has never been so important as negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 - Germany and the UN’s permanent Security Council members, China, France, Russia, Britain, and the US - continue in Baghdad on May 23rd. It would be naive to expect a major breakthrough in Turkey, but that Iran and the P5+1 are once again at the table is cause for optimism. While many outstanding issues remain, the atmosphere appears conducive for fruitful negotiations. It behooves all parties to keep talking.
The groundwork for a watershed was laid out in the first round of negotiations in Istanbul, in which two significant steps were achieved. The first was the P5+1 agreeing to find a solution within the parameters of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), of which Iran is a signatory. The second was the idea of reciprocity and confidence-building measures.
To the latter’s effect, Iran started work right away. Ali Bagheri, the deputy Iranian negotiator, got in touch with his opposite number at the EU, Helga Schmid, the day after the Istanbul talks to ensure that the ball kept rolling. In the run-up to the next round of talks, the two have met at an undisclosed location to draw up an agenda. Other goodwill initiatives on Iran’s part include recent exchanges with the IAEA in Tehran and Vienna; Iran and the atomic agency are making headway towards a framework deal on how to tackle concerns about its atomic program.
Iran needs to be encouraged for such initiatives – with reciprocity. For one, the tired-out and ineffective dual track that really turned out to be a single path of economic statecraft needs to be abandoned. What we need is a new roadmap with a single track, one route towards a sustained diplomatic process, on both bi-lateral and multi-lateral levels.
The American public, war-weary and worried about economic conditions, continues to oppose military action against Iran, and the Pentagon appears sceptical of the use of force. The Obama Administration has reason to avoid escalation and seek diplomatic progress, particularly in an election year.
The only way forward is for both parties to convince one another that they want to focus on improving their relationship. That means identifying where American/European and Iranian interests overlap and giving expression to those commonalities through language that is negotiated fair and square. Bullying, trying to cripple the Iranian economy, flirting with regime change, and threatening unauthorized use of force against Iranian assets will perpetuate the downward spiral. A prominent lawmaker from Iran’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, Kazem Jalali, has reiterated that pressure is ineffective and must be replaced with the language of cooperation.
Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has issued a fatwa or religious decree declaring weapons of mass destruction haram (forbidden) as according to the Holy Qur’an. The integrity and importance of such a fatwa is testified by the fact that in the 1980s, when Iran was unlawfully invaded by Iraq, becoming the first victim of chemical weapons since World War II, it did not retaliate with weapons of mass destruction owing to a fatwa issued by then-Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini. This principle is unshakeable and a foundation for confidence-building should be built on it through constructive dialogue. With just two attempts at dialogue in as many years, this week’s discussion will be successful if it can simply set the stage for ongoing negotiations. Never before has talk been so precious.
The article was first published on 22 May 2012 in the Portuguese daily Diário Económico.