"Iran, US should find a ‘middle ground’ to fix nuclear deal"

Ex-diplomat blames lack of understanding for solving Iran-US disputes

June 3, 2022 - 0:49

TEHRAN – Koroush Ahmadi, a former Iranian diplomat, blames “lack of understanding” and “lack of deep engagement” as main hurdles preventing Iran and the United States to resolve lingering disputes, not just the nuclear issue, between themselves.

In an exclusive interview with the Tehran Times, Ahmadi suggests that “the U.S. and Iran should be able to reach a middle ground” on reviving the nuclear deal with help of participants to the nuclear deal talks, particularly the European Union.

Following is the text of the interview:

Question: The prospects to revive the 2015 nuclear deal – JCPOA- is now looking grimmer than ever before. In your view, what steps are needed to be taken to create hope for a restoration of the agreement?

Answer: On the surface, there are specific unresolved issues such as the removal of the IRGC from the FTO list that are apparently creating the current impasse. But, in my view, the lack of any understanding between Iran and the U.S. and any effort to that end is much more important than specific issues. I believe the lack of deep engagement between these two main parties is one of the major impediments in the way to reach the understanding necessary to clear the way. A dozen issues are marring and straining Iran–U.S. relations. The nuclear deal is just one of them. Dialogue between them may not necessarily aim to resolve those dozen issues, but may help the parties to understand each other better. And that would help address the specific issues that are blocking progress in the Vienna negotiations. Speaking specifically on the issues at hand in the negotiations, I believe that the US officials should answer the proposals Iran conveyed to them through Enrique Mora. Iran, in turn, should formulate specific proposals on, for example, the “economic guarantees” that Iran’s Foreign Minister referred to as more important issue, as well as proposals in case the FTO designation proves difficult to address.

Q: Don’t you think a failure to fix the JCPOA would be a great gift to Trump and other Iran hawks?

A: Of course it is. They are loudly enjoying the current stalemate and publicly calling for the announcement by the Biden administration of the negotiation’s failure and leave the table. At the same time, they have been threatening that a would-be Republican president in January 2025 would withdraw again from the JCPOA if the current administration succeeded to revive it.

‘What Trump did was based on ideological illusion and not on U.S. national interest.’

The American hawkish conservatives, including Trump and almost all other Republicans, were adamant as from the beginning to destroy the JCPOA. A letter of 2015, orchestrated by Senator Tom Cotton and signed by 47 Republican senators, vowed to have the deal nullified by the next president. Trump senselessly took the U.S. out of the deal against the advice of his close colleagues such as the then secretaries of State and Defense and his National Security Adviser and his European allies. What he did was based on an ideological illusion and not on the concrete U.S. national interest. The fact that nothing stemmed from the so-called maximum pressure is indicative of the foolishness of that policy.

Q: Trump put the IRGC, a branch of the Iranian military, on the FTO list to make a JCPOA revival difficult. However, experts and certain current and former officials, including Javier Solana and Carl Bildt, or Republican Senator Rand Paul, believe such a designation is largely symbolic.  Now, is it advisable for Biden to let the JCPOA elude because of such a thing, which has nothing to do with the nuclear agreement?

A: There is no doubt that the inclusion of the IRGC on the FTO list was a machination aimed at making difficult the return to the JCPOA for the incoming Democrat president. And unfortunately that machination is apparently successful. In the meantime, it is quite right that in the case of the IRGC, the designation is largely symbolic. Because the IRGC and all entities and persons connected to it are already subject to extraterritorial sanctions by the laws, such as CISADA, and executive orders and remained so despite the 2015 JCPOA, because those sanctions on the IRGC were related to non-nuclear issues, such as human rights, terrorism, regional issues and missile program. However, the Biden administration should understand that the designation came following the withdrawal of Trump from the deal. Thus, Iran reasonably seeks to have that designation lifted, as it is one of the actions made by the Trump administration that aimed to destroyed the deal.

‘If the FTO designation is not the main issue, then going back to the negotiating table is much more important and necessary.’

Q: In a recent interview with CNN’s Fareed Zakaria in Davos, Iran’s FM said the designation against the IRGC is a minor issue and that the most important hurdle is that the U.S. is not ready to guarantee that Iran can freely enter business deals with the outside world. If so, why does the U.S. is trying to constrain Iran economically?

A: If it is the case and the FTO designation is not the main issue, then going back to the negotiating table is much more important and necessary. Through negotiations with the help of the other JCPOA participants, especially the EU, the U.S. and Iran should be able to reach a middle ground.

Q: Despite attempts by EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and his deputy Mora to reenergize the Vienna talks, Israel’s Naftali Bennett is resorting to assassinations and other vicious acts to kill the slightest hope to revive the JCPOA. What should be the West’s response to such malicious moves?

A: Israel’s attempts and schemes to prevent the nuclear deal to be concluded are well-known to all. They did whatever in their power to prevent the Obama administration to reach agreement with Iran and they failed miserably. In parallel, at least since 2009 they resorted to all sorts of sabotage and terrorist acts to create tension in the relations between Iran and the West and at the same time subvert and disrupt the Iran nuclear program. However, the Iran-U.S. negotiations went on successfully and the deal was reached in 2015. Thus, I’m saying that even though the acts carried out by the Israelis have some impact, but they are not of the nature to change the policies of Iran and the U.S.

‘Israel’s schemes to prevent the nuclear deal to be concluded are well-known to all.’

Q: Why do the Iran hawks in Israel and the U.S. think that their interests lie in fully destroying the agreement?

A: Ideology, to some extent, is partly to blame. Those hawkish elements are ideologues at the same time seeking to advance their interests inside their countries against the liberal rivals and in the region against Iran’s influence. Geopolitics is another factor that comes in. They believe that the U.S. and Iran are at odds in the region and Iran seeks to oust the U.S. from the region.

Q: Suppose the JCPOA is revived, how can Iran and the U.S. bury the hatchet and cooperate on certain areas in which the two sides share common interests, such as a stable Middle East or campaign against terrorism?

A: As I said I believe that the two countries that are the most important powers in the region need to engage with a view to understanding each other. A dialogue that is necessary may or may not be fruitful. In either case, they stand not to lose anything. In the past they proved to have common interest in the cases of Ba’athist Iraq and the Taliban Afghanistan, and to some extent, they cooperated at least in the case of Afghanistan in the early stage of ousting the Taliban. It is important to note that the JCPOA is a single-issue deal. And this is one of its major points of weakness. In the sense that tensions arising from other issues affect the JCPOA’s standing. Even if they can reach a deal to revive the agreement, it will remain shaky and precarious if other issues are not addressed.

The interview is conducted by M.A. Saki

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