Stephen Cook: Despite it’s negative published title – see below – this article is immensely positive and conveys a real sense of the new energies at work within the mechanics of such a complex, diplomatic ‘negotiation’. of what was previously regarded as an ‘intractable problem. It indicates the ‘substance’, ‘trust’, ‘peace’, ‘mutually-defined benefits’ and ‘sincerity’ involved in the negotiations. The writer, Sir Richard Dalton – British ambassador to Iran 2002-2006 – also positively acknowledges President Obama as a peacemaker.
Iran and US Learned the Lessons of Failure
By Sir Richard Dalton, Former British ambassador to Iran Sir Richard Dalton – November 25, 2013 | Thanks to Golden Age of Gaia.
As the deal was sealed in the early hours of Sunday, Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister, said: “Now we are just taking a first step, the difficult work is ahead of us.” That is true, but the distance already travelled since the Iranian presidential election in June is an impressive omen for that work.
So why now? First, because of new procedures: the negotiators applied the lessons of many years of failure. They conducted the talks mostly in secret. They added a totally secret bilateral US-Iran channel to the formal talks. They gave their teams authority to negotiate. They agreed to forge a comprehensive agreement in stages. And both sides moderated their demands, including by dropping the pursuit of ideal but unattainable aims, such as ending all international sanctions now or, from the other side, suspending all uranium enrichment as a prelude to eliminating it.
Second, they gave real substance to their rhetoric on creating mutual benefit, going well beyond the mere confidence-building that has dominated the last few years. So the most sensitive parts of Iran’s enrichment activities have been halted and many of the elements of a final agreement agreed in outline.
These include an achievable long term solution to ensure Iran’s program will be exclusively peaceful; a mutually-defined uranium enrichment program in Iran calibrated to future civil needs; eventual removal of all nuclear-related sanctions and, following successful implementation, treating the Iranian program in the same manner as that of any non-nuclear-weapon state party to the NPT.
Third, they started to build trust by providing for innovative verification that goes beyond Iran’s obligations under its safeguards agreement. To quote Peter Jenkins, a former British Ambassador to the UN and IAEA in Vienna, the negotiators made possible state-of-the-art verification including daily visits, unprecedented access to sites, and up to date design information. Such high-quality verification, he adds, was never available in the only state that has developed nuclear weapons while adhering to the NPT, North Korea.
Fourth, personalities mattered: Iran’s new foreign minister, Javad Zarif, has had a revivifying effect on jaded diplomats. President Hassan Rouhani has conveyed pragmatism and sincerity. Obama is a peacemaker and has taken courageous decisions against the background of extraordinarily difficult relations between the administration and Congress.
Standing behind them, of course, were the electorates of European countries and the US. The decision-makers know that majorities fear a new war in the Middle East and do not believe that war is necessary to permanently foreclose Iran’s option of a bomb. The Iranian electorate voted for the moderate candidate, hoping that he would both govern better and lighten international pressures.
But of greatest importance was that both Iran and the US had decided quite recently to commit themselves to a negotiation.
Why did both the Supreme leader and the US President Obama risk opposition from their domestic opponents and, in Obama’s case, from key allies? They did so because they had no better way of achieving their respective fundamental aims – for Khamenei, the survival, security and prosperity of the Islamic Republic in the face of economic sanctions, and for Obama, preventing the spread of nuclear weapons to countries beyond Israel.
Who benefits from the deal? It is always difficult for external powers to maintain that they have better ideas than those in the region for forestalling the worst dangers that countries opposed to Iran might face. There are real reasons for fear and distrust of Iran: they live close to Iran and we in Europe don’t.
It is a good agreement for the region, nevertheless: first, because the estrangement between much of the international community and Iran, and the US and Iran in particular, has gone on for too long and is itself a source of instability.
Secondly, it ensures a greater chance of permanent, irrevocable adherence by Iran to its commitment that in no circumstances will it ever seek or develop nuclear weapons than any of the alternative courses of action being offered such as real war or economic warfare through more sanctions.
Thirdly, it entails no relaxation in the US and allied powers commitment to ensure that there will be no nuclear weapons in Iran or any change in US and allied defence commitments in the region. So it is good for Israel’s security and that of the Gulf Cooperation Council states, including Saudi Arabia.
Fourth, the depth of Iranian concessions gives President Rouhani and his colleagues a good spring-board for convincing their neighbours that they do not intend them harm. Whether they can build any trust depends not just on their record in implementing the nuclear agreement, but also on what role they play in the peace-making and in a transition to a better government in Syria. They should scale back their rhetoric and their actions in the Middle East, and give and honour assurances they will not seek to thwart a settlement between Israel and the Palestinians.
The Iranian government will benefit modestly. Rouhani can show doubters that negotiation paid off, not just with limited relief from a few effects of sanctions but also in determining the outline of a final settlement.
The Iranian people will benefit economically in time, if a final agreement can be reached. They will welcome a temporary respite from bad international news. But they will have no reason to think that they will gain politically at home.
Failure in Geneva would have weakened Rouhani generally, including in attempting to live up to his election promises to reduce the burden of security measures and enhance rights. His nuclear success will not transfer easily to the domestic sphere, or make it easier for him to deal with opponents on these very different matters.
The international community, that has been largely a spectator to the on-again, off-again nuclear negotiations over the years benefits – as William Hague points out, the agreement gives us all a bit of extra confidence that negotiated solutions can be reached to the Middle East’s most intractable problems.
Sir Richard Dalton was British ambassador to Iran 2002-2006 and is associate fellow, Middle East and North Africa Programme at Chatham House.