By M.A. Saki

Iran’s flexibility needs to be reciprocated by West if it is serious in Vienna talks: ex-diplomat

January 1, 2022 - 22:18

TEHRAN - A former Iranian diplomat says if the West is serious to revitalize the 2015 nuclear agreement, like Iran it also needs to show flexibility in the Vienna talks.

“There are indications that the Iranian delegation has been constructive in showing flexibility, including in avoiding to insist on all the amendments that it had proposed at the beginning. There is a need for this flexibility to be reciprocated by the other party, if it is serious to reach an agreement,” Kourosh Ahmadi tells the Tehran Times in an exclusive interview.

Ahmadi also believes that the U.S. is accusing Iran of buying time as a tactic because it may have “an eye on blame game in case the talks fail.”

Following is the text of the interview:

Q: Even some in the U.S. are saying that Joe Biden is not serious to revitalize the JCPOA as he promised during his presidential campaigns. Do you think this lack of seriousness is intended to avoid infuriating the Republics?

A: I don’t see any serious signs indicating that Mr. Biden is not serious to revive the JCPOA. It seems that he is serious to do so under certain conditions that are not realistic. For example, in his Op-ed, published by CNN on 13 September 2020, he talked of reviving the deal and making it “longer and stronger” and then focusing on other such issues as Iran’s missile program and regional issues. If his administration intends to insist on such unrealistic conditions, then the current efforts in Vienna should turn out to be frustrating. This is exactly where that the Republicans come in and insist that Mr. Biden live up to his promises. In other words, he might be now trapped by his rhetoric. 

Q: How do you assess the process of the Vienna talks?

A: I believe that both parts seek and are ready for a compromise. While the talks have been slow so far, but I think they are still on track. The parties in the seventh round got to know each other, which was needed due to the change of administration in Iran. They also agreed on how to proceed and also on the texts that would be the bases of the negotiations. During the current round they should be able to focus on the content. There are indications that the Iranian delegation has been constructive in showing flexibility, including in avoiding to insist on all the amendments that it had proposed at the beginning. There is a need for this flexibility to be reciprocated by the other party, if it is serious to reach an agreement.

Issues surrounding Iran’s nuclear program “can’t be obviously legal or technical”. 


Q: What is your analysis of an insistence by the West, especially Americans, that the Vienna talks should lead to a result as soon as possible? For example, Secretary Blinken has said, “I’m not going to put a time limit on it or give you the number of meters remaining on the runway, except to say, yes, it is getting very, very, very short.” Don’t you think such artificial deadlines are intended to put psychological pressure on Iran?

A: This has been a tactic that the U.S. has employed from the beginning. They began by accusing Iran of trying to buy time and procrastinate. Iran’s five months or so delay to start the talks has been an excuse for them to try to advance this argument. By doing so, they may have also an eye on blame game in case the talks fail. Now, they try to bring pressure to bear on Iran by hawkish talks and some sort of unofficial and implicit deadline. No doubt that this would deteriorate the ambiance and hurt the prospect for a compromise. 

Q: There are reports that France as a member of the European troika is hampering progress of the talks. Of course, France played such a role in the previous round of talks that led to the JCPOA. Don’t you think that France is trying to please certain Persian Gulf sheikhdoms through such a behavior?

A: There is a possibility that the French behavior now and then was and continues to be motivated by France’s relations with and pressure from some Arab States on the southern shores of the Persian Gulf. They also began since August 2017 to talk about incorporating issues relating to Iran’s missile program and the regional issues into the negotiations; something that Iran has always rejected. It should be also taken into account that, as a reason, Iran has not endeavored enough toward building necessary leverage with France and other European states. While Iran’s regional rivals have lost no opportunity to move in that and every other direction. 

Q: In your December 27 article in the Etemad newspaper you wrote that the experience of the previous talks show that the P5+1 group has always acted unanimously, and therefore an extremist approach by one member may affect the entire group. Can you elaborate on this point?

 “If Biden admin. insists on unrealistic conditions, Vienna talks may turn out to be frustrating” A: Yes, it has been always important for the U.S. under the Obama and Biden administrations to build a coalition in dealing with Iran and many other international issues. It was obviously not the case with the Trump administration. Now, the U.S. believes that they will be stronger if the 5+1 can maintain a unified approach and position. John Kerry, the previous U.S. Secretary of State and chief negotiator, refers in his memoire to the French more hawkish stand at one point in the previous negotiations and emphasizes that they needed to be attentive to what France was asking for.  He also says that, based on the instruction by President Obama, the highest priority for the U.S. delegation was to preserve the 5+1 unity and unified position as it was necessary for reaching agreement with Iran and protect it thereafter. Kerry adds, we therefore stood with France. This time too we may conclude that once again one 5+1 member’s hawkish approach may affect the position of the whole group. 

Q: In a recent interview former nuclear negotiator Seyyed Hossein Mousavian has somehow suggested a direct negotiation between Iran and the U.S., believing if the U.S. is going to give concessions to Iran it wants to give it directly and not through intermediaries. What is your opinion?

A: There should be no doubt about it. While I understand Iran’s anger as one of the reasons for Iran’s avoiding to talk directly to the U.S., I doubt that there could be any deal between Iran and the U.S. without the two parties talking directly to each other. Moreover, I

“I believe that at more advanced stages of negotiations, it would be essentially impossible for these two main parties to make much progress without sitting face to face and focusing on wordings, phrases, alternatives, substitute wordings.” believe that at more advanced stages of negotiations, it would be essentially impossible for these two main parties to make much progress without sitting face to face and focusing on wordings, phrases, alternatives, substitute wordings and so on. Besides, indirect talks would be too much time consuming and require much confidence in messengers that may be nonexistent. No need to remind that any of the messengers have their own interest. 

Q: Both the U.S. and Europe would like to hold Iran responsible for the current crisis, ignoring the fact that the U.S. exit from the JCPOA and inaction by the Europeans to compensate Iran for the sanctions led to Tehran’s retaliatory moves. What is the reason for such a blame game?

A: There is no doubt that the U.S. reneging on its commitments is the main responsible for the current situation. Other countries, including the Europeans and others, are also responsible for their inaction and failing to push their banks and companies to keep working with Iran. Some countries that continue to work with Iran in a limited way, are doing so informally and through intermediaries without showing it in their formal statistics and customs records. This type of business is also very costly for Iran and cannot go on indefinitely.

Q: It is quite understandable that Iran is seeking some guarantees that the U.S. will not leave the JCPOA again. However, experts and diplomats believe that the only way that Iran could be sure that sanctions would be lifted permanently is to resolve Tehran’s basic differences and disputes with the U.S. and to establish normal relations. What is your suggestion?

A: Given the breach of commitment by the U.S., I do agree that Iran is right to be wary and circumspect about taking again the same path. A kind of guarantee binding the U.S. to the deal in the future is a solution if there could be one. To my knowledge, there is still no feasible and practical suggestion to this end. On the other hand, it is much said that the main deficiency of the JCPOA is the fact that it is a one-issue deal. Whereas there are so many issues straining Iran-U.S. relationship. Thus, I understand the logic of the proposition. At least, since the 1990s there has been talks of a so-called grand bargain in which the two countries work out everything between them. But at least at the time being, I see no prospect for such a likelihood. Under the current circumstances, I can’t think of anything else other than all sides returning to their commitments under the JCPOA and trying in good faith to stay compliant with its terms. We have also to be wary of opening up the deal, as it would resemble opening up a Pandora’s box.

Q: Do you agree with this view that the problem surrounding Iran's nuclear program is essentially political?

A: Of course, it is essentially political. It can’t be obviously legal or technical. The political will of the parties is the most determinant factor to decide the outcome of any endeavor aimed at finding a solution. And by political, I also factor in the domestic politics of the parties. As the saying goes: foreign policy is the continuation of domestic policy. The domestic policy of the U.S. under Obama brought about the JCPOA and the U.S. domestic policy under Trump destroyed it. 

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