By Mohamamd Mazhari

Reaching a deal in Vienna not impossible: professor

December 15, 2021 - 14:57

TEHRAN - Arshin Adib-Moghaddam, a London-based professor, says that reaching a deal in Vienna is a difficult task as the U.S. president is caught up in domestic constraints, but it is not impossible.

“I believe it is incredibly difficult to reach a deal, but it is not impossible. Undoubtedly, Europe wants this to happen, President Biden, too, but he is too caught up in domestic constraints to act upon his instinct,” Professor Adib Moghaddam tells the Tehran Times.

World powers are continuing private talks in Vienna aimed at reviving Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal but disagreements between Iran and the West have kept on spilling into public view.

In a tweet early on Tuesday, Iran’s chief negotiator wrote that some counterparts still “persist in their blame game habit, instead of real diplomacy”.

Ali Bagheri Kani said “diplomacy is a two-way street”, suggesting that the three European signatories to the deal – France, Germany, and the United Kingdom – and the United States, which unilaterally abandoned the accord in 2018, lack the political will to reach an agreement.

This came shortly after senior diplomats from the so-called E3 said they still have not “been able to get down to real negotiations”.

However, analysts expect the nuclear deal talks in Vienna to lead to some sort of consensus.

“I retain my cautious optimism that the negotiations will continue,” Adib Moghaddam notes.

Following is the text of the interview:

Q: What is your prediction about new rounds of talks in Vienna to revive the JCPOA? Do you see any flexibility? Some observers argue there is no solution but a new deal.

A: I believe it is incredibly difficult to reach a deal, but it is not impossible. Undoubtedly, Europe wants this to happen, President Biden, too, but he is too caught up in domestic constraints to act upon his instinct. There is a wall of mistrust between the United States and Iran in particular, as I have discussed in “What is Iran?”. I would have liked to see some Track-2 diplomacy before the talks started, much in the same way as it happened during the Obama administration when there were various communications channels that aided and abetted the diplomatic process. I retain my cautious optimism that the negotiations will continue. As the minimum outcome, we may have another round of talks.

Q: The Iranian side says Washington is not ready to honor its commitments in the JCPOA? Do you think U.S. exceptionalism may prevent it from tolerating anything that challenges its supremacy?

A: I think it is fair to say that the political elites governing the United States have had a distorted picture of world politics in general, including the situation with Iran. But this may be equally true for the counterparts. It has a lot to do with the way elite circulation happens these days – it is not always the brightest minds who become politicians. But I think the analytical reason why Biden can’t act upon his instinct, which signals to him that a diplomatic solution with Iran must be sought, is largely rooted in his imperiled domestic standing in the United States. Obama cleverly enveloped the JCPOA in a language of new U.S. diplomatic activism and as such sold it as a triumph. Biden hasn’t had that narrative that would have allowed him to sell a success in the JCPOA negotiations as a political advantage, even to his constituency in the United States itself.

Q: We have seen some sort of blame game between Iran and the U.S. and its Western allies in the midst of the Vienna talks. Why are the Western countries trying to neglect the fat that it was Washington that quit the JCPOA unilaterally?

A: It is brinkmanship and I have to say both sides were wrong to start the negotiations with maximalist demands and stand-points. Again, the JCPOA negotiations required a preliminary process to ease everyone into the Vienna meeting. In many ways, the election of President Raisi made this difficult for Iran, as no one in Europe or the United States wants to be seen to do business with him. This is just a fact.

Q: Some say the JCPOA can never meet Iran's expectations because no one in the West is ready to invest in Iran after Trump abandoned the pact. Also, there is no guarantee that the next U.S. administration won’t pull out of any possible deal. What is the solution?

A: The solution would have been to paste the JCPOA into a wider diplomatic dialogue between the United States and Iran via the European Union. The next Iranian President may want to display this audacity in order to secure both the national security of Iran and the interest of Iranian citizens. The initiative to change international relations and everything related to it has to come from Iran.

Q: Apparently the Iranians and the Western countries cannot understand each other’s logic. The Iranian side is talking about guarantees and ways of compensation for the economic loss the Trump administration caused while the Americans expect a rapid return to the pact without any guarantee to not breach it. Is there any ground on which both sides find a common language? And how do you assess Western conceptions of Iran as a great civilization?

A: My work has always also been about the gross misperceptions of Iran from the outside and “What is Iran?” speaks to that point, too. But perceptions and misperceptions are socially constructed, which means that they can be rectified. It is another fact emerging from my research and exposure, that Iran misrepresents itself. Why would any Iranian wait until the so-called “West” perceives the country as a great civilization when the Iranian state doesn’t enact that image or when the Iranian diplomatic missions and cultural attaches have no real impact on the representation of the country? How many exhibitions of Iran as a great civilization have Iranian embassies in Berlin, Athens, London, Madrid, Paris, and Prague organized? I know that there are many Turkish, Qatari, Emirati and Saudi events happening, but very rarely any Iranian ones, apart from those that some of us organize as a part of our cultural work, without any support, as orphaned disciples so to say. The image of Iran must be created from within – alas, this is not the case and it is probably one of the biggest weaknesses of Iran in international diplomacy.