By Mohammad Mazhari

Israel continues to obstruct attempts to create NWFZ: Russian academic

February 14, 2021 - 13:32
‘Trump's maximum pressure policy has hit American interests in the region’

TEHRAN - An associate professor in the Department of Comparative Politics at Russia’s RUDN University says Israel is one of the main obstacles to a “nuclear-weapon-free zone” in the region.

“Israel boycotted the conferences for NWFZ in the Middle East (West Asia) and continues to obstruct all attempts to create a nuclear-free zone,” Vladimir Ivanov tells the Tehran Times. 
One of the main obstacles to the NWFZ is the Israeli arsenal of WMDs and its refusal to join the CWC and BWC, Ivanov says.

NWFZ stands for a nuclear-weapon-free zone; CWC for the Chemical Weapons Convention; and BWC for Biological Weapons Convention. 

A nuclear-weapon-free zone in West Asia was first proposed by Iran in 1974. The idea of such a zone was suggested as a way to curb Israel’s nuclear ambitions. 

The Islamic Republic of Iran, which replaced the Shah regime in 1979, is insisting on a nuclear-weapons-free zone in West Asia. 

Despite Iran’s adherence to the 2015 nuclear deal – JCPOA- the U.S. withdrew from the pact in May 2018 and introduced the harshest sanctions on Tehran under its “maximum pressure” policy.

Now the Biden administration seems to be temporizing to rejoin the pact, urging Iran to take the first step.

But the Russian academic emphasizes that “the first step to rejuvenate the JCPOA is the lifting of unilateral U.S. sanctions imposed after May 8, 2018.”
The following is the text of the interview:

Q: How do you assess the new American administration’s policy towards Iran as Washington wants Iran to take the first step to return to the JCPOA despite the fact that it was the Trump administration that officially withdrew from the deal in 2018. 

A: Joe Biden, who announced his victory in the U.S. presidential election, will likely adhere to the policy of dialogue with Iran, which will have a positive impact on the fate of the JCPOA. During his race for the presidency, Biden promised that the United States would re-join the JCPOA. The positive aspect of this policy is that it will be based on dialogue and negotiations, as pressure policy was counterproductive. The question is in what order the new U.S. administration will soften its policy towards Iran, given that Tehran has already stopped implementing part of the JCPOA in response to U.S. sanctions.

Apparently, Biden will first lift those sanctions, which affect Iran's fight with the COVID-19 pandemic, and the travel ban. Moreover, he wants to expand the agreement to include Iran's missile program and regional activities, but this strategy will not work as Iran will resist, but it may be possible to strike deals on more issues for mutual benefit. For example, Tehran can agree to discuss missiles, if they will include or affect other regional missile powers (Israel, Saudi Arabia, Egypt).

The new talks with Tehran may be the key for the new U.S. president to restore previous relations with European partners. However, it will not be easy to revive the course pursued by Barack Obama at the time — Donald Trump has made too serious changes in American politics. According to Biden, the reality showed that the Republican course failed. Trump failed to convince U.S. allies to extend the arms embargo on Iran, and members of the UN Security Council refused to renew anti-Iranian sanctions. Thus, Trump's "maximum pressure" policy has hit American interests in the region. Five years ago, the United States cooperated on the JCPOA with Europe, as well as with China and Russia, now Washington is alone, said Biden.

The Iranian president said: "We hope that the next U.S. administration will directly condemn Trump's policy towards Iran and make amends for the erroneous course pursued by the last administration over the past four years". As much as Biden would like to return U.S. politics to the state of 2016, this is impossible. Donald Trump has left a serious mark on American foreign policy.

At the same time, Iran should perceive the U.S. system of power as a whole, without exaggeration the real differences of the personalities who won the office. Therefore, Washington and Tehran will need time and an agenda to discuss issues related to the actions of the Trump administration and the reaction of the Iranian authorities. Both sides have mutual claims, and therefore it will be fundamentally difficult to take the first step, and the lack of firm political will to revive the JCPOA will not allow achieving any significant results briefly. Probably, each side expects the other to take the initiative. In addition, there are still questions about Biden's ability to cancel Trump's sanctions orders against Iran and return the situation to the state of the end of President Barack Obama's second term, which, of course, will be positively perceived in Iran.

Q: Could Moscow play the role of an influential mediator to revive the JCPOA?

A: In the situation that has developed since the U.S withdrawal from the agreement and Iran's limited retaliatory actions, Russia has consistently advocated the restoration of the effectiveness of the JCPOA, which includes the return of all its original participants to fulfilling their obligations under the JCPOA in full. Moscow and Tehran are interested in the full restoration of the nuclear deal between Iran and other participants of the JCPOA.

As Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov said recently: "Today, one of the most pressing issues is the task of saving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action for the settlement of the Iranian nuclear program. Both we and Iran are sincerely interested in returning to the full implementation of their obligations by all the parties that signed the JCPOA". According to the Russian minister, given the role of the two countries in the region, Moscow and Tehran are interested in deepening the dialogue on such issues as security in the Persian Gulf, the problem of the Afghan settlement, as well as the situation around Nagorno-Karabakh after the cessation of hostilities.

Russia states that the first step to rejuvenate JCPOA is the lifting of unilateral U.S. sanctions imposed after May 8, 2018, not only on Iranian individuals and legal entities but also on persons under the jurisdiction of other states, including Russia.

“The first step to rejuvenate JCPOA is the lifting of unilateral U.S. sanctions imposed after May 8, 2018.”

Q: Do you think that the initiative of nuclear-weapon-free zones (NWFZ) in West Asia is realistic due to Israel's refusal of any cooperation?

A: First, let’s not forget that the Soviet Union is the initiator of the "nuclear-free approach" to the Middle East (West Asia). Often unnoticed is the fact that as early as January 22, 1958, the TASS Statement said: "The Middle East (West Asia) should and can become a zone of peace, where there are no nuclear and missile weapons, a zone of good neighborhood and friendly cooperation between states”. Due to the unfavorable foreign policy environment and the bipolar confrontation, this proposal was not developed. The United States considered the Soviet Union's support for nuclear-weapon-free zones a "political bluff" in order to weaken the military power of the United States and its allies. In 1961, exactly what the TASS Statement warned about happened – Washington began deploying its PGM-19 Jupiter medium-range ballistic missiles in Turkey.

One of the main obstacles to the NWFZ is the Israeli arsenal of WMDs and its refusal to join the CWC and BWC to the CWC and BWC, the failure of the United States of its obligations to nuclear-free zones (the last American doctrine "Nuclear Posture Review" allows Washington to use nuclear weapons even against non-nuclear states). Israel's nuclear arsenal was a source of concern amid the weakening of the non-proliferation regime and the disintegration of the arms control regime. So, "Absolute security for one means insecurity for all others". Israel boycotted the conferences for NWFZ in the Middle East (West Asia). Israel continues to obstruct all attempts to create a nuclear-free zone. 

Q: Given the New Start treaty signed between the U.S. and Russia, how do you evaluate the new U.S. administration’s policies when it comes to Russia?

A: As we know, the presidents of Russia and the United States, Vladimir Putin and Joe Biden, decided to extend the Treaty on the Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (START-3), which expired on February 5 this year. Earlier, Moscow's proposal to extend it, which is provided for in the protocol to the agreement, sent to Washington last fall, did not cause any positive reaction from the administration of Donald Trump. The administration of Donald Trump imposed such unacceptable ultimatum requirements on the extension of the START-3, which a priori could not be accepted by the Kremlin.

One of the reasons why the Trump administration did not want to extend START-3 is that it generally believed that the United States could not be bound by any international obligations. Hence the withdrawal from many treaties, ranging from the climate agreement, the Treaty on the Elimination of Intermediate-range and Shorter-range Missiles, and ending with the agreement on Iran's peaceful nuclear program. 

Naturally, when Democrat Joe Biden, who was Barack Obama's vice president, came to power in the United States, he immediately decided to extend the START-3 Treaty. But not only because it was concluded under his former boss and with his participation, but also because this agreement is very beneficial to the United States itself. The extension of the START-3 Treaty for another five years will allow both sides to continue the discussion on arms control — both strategic and tactical, nuclear and non-nuclear, to negotiate on strategic stability and, possibly, on arms reduction, involving third countries in these negotiations.

But it seems to me naive to hope for a warming of relations between the United States and Russia after the extension of the START-3 Treaty because no one can cancel the geopolitical competition between Moscow and Washington, as well as between Washington and Beijing.

Q: Do you expect a fundamental shift in U.S. policies during Biden's presidency?

A: A large number of uncertainties are visible on the political horizon, which will hinder the restoration of the effectiveness of the JCPOA and dictate a strict time frame for achieving at least the first successes – and they are necessary to create "positive political inertia" both within the United States and Iran, and in relations between them. The main factor of uncertainty today is the ability of President Joe Biden, who spoke in favor of returning to the JCPOA, and the new presidential team to resist attempts to force them to abandon this goal or link it to conditions that make it obviously unattainable. However, we should also not underestimate the potential risks of sudden crisis situations-both accidental and deliberate provocations (an example of the latter is the murder of the Iranian scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh on November 27, 2020).

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