Iran nuclear deal can open dialogue on issues of common interest: Fitzpatrick

August 13, 2015 - 0:0

TEHRAN - Mark Fitzpatrick, director of the non-proliferation program at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), believes that the nuclear deal between Iran and the West can create new opportunities for holding talks on “many issues of common interest”.

“Clearing away the nuclear obstacles opens the possibilities for dialogue between Iran and Western nations on other areas of mutual interest that has not been possible for 35 years,” Fitzpatrick told the Tehran Times in an exclusive interview.

However the non-proliferation expert said “anti-American rhetoric” in Iran would reinforce “the arguments of those in the United States who oppose the nuclear deal.”

Iran and major powers (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany) struck a deal on Tehran’s nuclear program on July 14 in Vienna. On July 20 the UN Security Council adopted a resolution endorsing the deal. Both Iran and its negotiating partners have called the deal “balanced”.

‘Communication channels’

Prior to the conclusion of the nuclear talks on July 8 Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote an article in the Financial Times saying the main threat to the world is extremism and terrorism and suggested that Iran is ready to cooperate with the international community to counter this menace once the nuclear dispute is resolved.

“To deal with this alarming challenge, new approaches are an imperative. International efforts are needed to fight this international battle… if we do not forcefully confront the menace of violent extremism soon, it will confront us,” Zarif noted.

Fitzpatrick said even though he does not “expect to see a quick road to rapprochement” between Iran and the United States “communication channels have now been established that can allow for discussion of many issues of common interest.”

The nuclear deal, which sets provisional limits on Iran’s nuclear activities and allows for more scrutiny of Iran’s nuclear sites, will go into force in early 2016.

Fitzpatrick called the nuclear breakthrough a “worthwhile deal” with “strong verification measures”.

‘Iran, Saudi Arabia should resolve differences’

Except Oman, which pushed for backchannel talks between Iran and the United States, other Persian Gulf Arab states, while welcoming the deal, have shown reservations about the deal, fearing a rapprochement between Tehran and Washington. Among the Arab neighbors Saudi Arabia has been more open in showing discontent over the agreement.

“Some of Iran’s Arab neighbors appreciate the deal, but most of them are apprehensive that it will strengthen Iran’s position at their expense,” Fitzpatrick said.

Iran and Saudi Arabia have been at loggerheads over the conflicts in Syria and Yemen. Iran and Saudi Arabia have been also been backing rival factions in Lebanon.

“Iran and Saudi Arabia should begin an engagement process of their own, and seek peaceful ways to resolve their differences.” Fitzpatrick suggested.

‘Safety standards’

Fitzpatrick also said Iran should allay possible concerns of the Arab neighbors about the safety standards of the Bushehr nuclear power plant by signing the Nuclear Safety Convention.

“One positive step Iran could take would be to improve safety standards for the Bushehr nuclear reactor, in order to address legitimate environmental concerns on the part of its Gulf neighbors. They wonder, for example, why Iran is the only country with nuclear power that has refused to join the Nuclear Safety Convention.”

Extremists in Tel Aviv and Republican opponents of President Barack Obama have strongly opposed the nuclear deal.

“Due to the zero-sum mentality that often prevails in the region, those countries that see themselves in continued confrontation with Iran may believe that they are losers because Iran's economy will be strengthened and the U.S. and Iran will not be so antagonistic.”

Analysts have said the nuclear deal would benefit the region and can help end conflicts in the region.

“Over the long term all countries of the region should benefit by a removal of the threat of war over the nuclear program and by Iran's peaceful integration into the region,” the expert said.

He also said his organization, the IISS, organizes a large regional conference in Bahrain every year in order to facilitate dialogue among regional players and hopes that Iran will attend this year's Manama Dialogue at a senior level.