Iranian Diplomacy: How would you assess the prospect of the Moscow talks?
Hermidas Bavand: Iran and IAEA negotiations, held in Vienna on Friday, could have prepared the ground for an agreement between Iran and the P5+1 in Moscow, hence, hopeful. But negotiations with the IAEA did not advance as expected, and it seems that it has created doubts about the success of the Moscow talks.
ID: Sergey Lavrov, Russia’s Foreign Minister, visited Iran. How related, in your opinion, is this trip to this issue?
HB: It seems that Lavrov discussed two issues, one the issue of Syria, and the other the issue of Iran’s nuclear talks in Moscow.
With regard to Syria’s crisis, Russia is after holding a conference about this issue to find a solution to the present crisis in Syria. The fact is that if this conference is supposed to have impact on Syria’s situation, Iran’s presence, due to its close relation with this country during the past 30 years, is necessary. Despite the fact that the US and Britain disagree with this matter, and it is not clear how effective Russia and China’s efforts to include Iran in such conference would be, Iran’s presence to find a solution for the crisis in Syria can be helpful.
The other issue on Lavrov’s agenda is Iran’s nuclear talks with the P5+1 in Moscow, due to be held next week. If Iran and the P5+1 reach an agreement in Moscow, it will be an important diplomatic achievement for Russia. Therefore, Russia will try to prevent the failure of these talks. Of course, there is a possibility that the Western countries will decide, based on whatever reason, to postpone the talks, but if they are not postponed, it is important for Russia to encourage Iran to modify its position prior to these talks.
ID: What does this modifying of its position mean?
HB: In fact, Russia is trying to get both sides’ agreement on its step-by-step plan, which recently was proposed. The issue of 20% uranium enrichment will probably be the most important issue to be discussed in Lavrov’s negotiations with Iranian officials. Western countries will ask Iran to stop its 20% enrichment and move the amount already enriched outside the country in exchange for a reduction of sanctions. Postponing Europe’s oil sanctions, due to be enforced in July, will be the first step in this regard.
ID: Regarding Syria, what issues would be discussed in Lavrov’s negotiations with Iranian officials?
HB: Russia is willing to have Iran on board in the conference on Syria. As Russian officials’ statements indicate, Russia has agreed with a Yemeni model in Syria, i.e. to put aside Bashar Assad and bring another person to power who can manage developments in the country.
ID: Is it possible for Iran to be on board with Russia’s position regarding Syria?
HB: It is difficult for Iran to have this position, for it is not clear that by Assad leaving, the political regime of this country would not collapse. Don’t forget that Syria’s political regime is a closed and authoritarian one and strongly dependent on the Assad family. Therefore, the resignation of Bashar Assad and substitution of another person will increase the possibility of regime’s total collapse. Considering Iran’s positions with regard to Syria, it would be difficult for Iran to align itself with Russia’s position.
ID: You mentioned that Russia is after holding a conference with Iran’s presence to solve Syria’s crisis. How probable, in your opinion, is Iran’s presence and is it to Iran’s benefit?
HB: If Iran decides to change its position with regard to the trend of developments in Syria and be aligned with Russia and China’s position, its presence can be fruitful. But if Iran insists on its previous position, based on complete support of Syria, attending the conference will leave Iran in the minority and it will be a diplomatic defeat for it, because the positions of European and Arab countries in this regard are very clear, in the serious political developments in Syria.
ID: Why do the US and Britain disagree with Iran’s presence in this conference?
HB: Western countries claim that Iran is a partner in the existing situation in Syria; hence, Iran’s presence in this conference will not be helpful in solving the crisis. On the other hand, we have heard harsh statements recently from Israeli officials in this regard, accusing Iran of being the main reason behind Syria's current situation. It seems that they are trying to put even more pressure on Iran by linking the Syrian crisis to Iran. Israel knows well that Syria is Iran's communication link with Hezbollah, and it believes that cutting this connection can help reduce Iran's influence in the region. This is an idea that Arab countries, especially Saudi Arabia, agree with, and they believe that removing Bashar Assad from power will stop communication in the Shiite Crescent. Furthermore, if Bashar Assad refuses to step aside, it is probable that, in reference to recent massacres in Syria, a case will be created against him in the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. And, as they have been doing in the past few months, they will try to link this to Iran as well.
ID: You mentioned that the suspension of European oil sanctions can be regarded as a concession. Can we consider the statement made today by the US State Department about countries that are exceptions to oil sanctions on Iran as a sign of such a concession?
HB: The position the US has taken with regard to certain countries is related to the economic problems these countries face and the damages they have been incurred by oil sanctions on Iran. The US considers two issues in this regard. The first is that they don't want oil sanctions on Iran to cause a serious decrease in oil demand and as a result a considerable increase in oil prices, which would then have a negative effect on the world's economic situation. On the other hand, the US has asked some of its economic partners who buy Iranian oil to reduce their imports from Iran. Most of these countries have reduced their purchases of oil from Iran and the US has given them exceptions to sanctions against Iran so as to prevent any economic damage to these countries. Therefore, it doesn't seem as if such a move is to Iran's advantage, but it is rather a move that benefits US allies and helps the progress of sanctions.