With the recommencement of nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 - the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany, hopes have been revived that after more than two decades of enmity between the two sides they can finally come to an agreement over Iran’s nuclear program. International observers hailed the latest round of nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 on October 15 and 16 in Geneva as constructive, calling it a step forward on the path of finding a conclusive and definite resolution to Iran’s nuclear standoff.
The Iranian negotiators demanded that the contents of the talks remain undisclosed until an agreement is reached. Their demand sounds reasonable as it will prevent the mass media from spreading falsehoods regarding the details of the agreement yet to be reached and also impede the efforts made by neo-conservative elements in the West to bring the negotiations to a premature end without a negotiated settlement.
During the talks, Iran presented a three-phased proposal entitled “Closing an Unnecessary Crisis, Opening New Horizons” which drew a roadmap for the future of the talks. According to the proposal, Iran would remove the concerns of the P5+1 through confidence-building measures and increased transparency in its nuclear activities, and in return, the Western powers will offer incentives to Iran by lifting the sanctions on a step-by-step basis.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told the reporters following the conclusion of talks in Geneva that “the negotiations will be done in the negotiating room, and not in the press.” He said that Iran is not after creating some kind of media hype over its proposal and rather takes a bottom-up practical approach toward the talks.
Iran’s presentation was welcomed by the P5+1. According to Reuters, Michael Mann, the spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said Iran made a “very useful” presentation during the talks. Even the United States, which usually expresses disappointment regarding talks with Iran, couldn’t hide its tacit approval. “The Iranian proposal was a new proposal with a level of seriousness and substance that we had not seen before,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters. A senior U.S. State Department official also praised the negotiations, saying that “for the first time, we had very detailed technical discussions.”
Catherine Ashton, who became the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy for the European Union in 2009, and took the lead as the coordinator of the P5+1 in talks, also underlined her “cautious optimism” but “a real sense of determination” toward the new round of negotiations with Iran.
Since the details of the Iranian proposal didn’t leak out and especially after Iran rejected the allegations made by the Israeli military intelligence website, Debka File, that had claimed to be possessing information on the contents of the proposal put forward by Iran, it’s not sensible to make suggestions on what Iran has offered to the P5+1, but what is clear is that Iran will be making reasonable compromises, in a balanced way, which will not sacrifice its nuclear rights under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, but ease tensions with the West. On the other hand, what Tehran expects from the P5+1 is the complete removal of the economic sanctions that have caused serious harm to Iran’s economy.
The sanctions, which were imposed following the escalation of tensions over Iran’s nuclear program in the past decade, are so diverse and extensive that they ostensibly affect every facet of Iranian society. These sanctions have had such a devastating impact on Iranian society that even a large number of American officials, think tanks and advocacy groups have called on the U.S. government and its European allies to ease them.
According to a report released by the U.S. Department of Commerce on February 8, 2013, the exports of pharmaceuticals to Iran have decreased by half. Patients who can’t find desperately needed medicine often have to resort to the black market to buy them at extremely high prices simply because they are being imported through intermediaries and third parties. “The most effective medicines to treat cancer and AIDS, which are manufactured only by Western pharmaceutical companies, can no longer be gotten within Iran. Ordinary commerce, as a matter of necessity, is now deeply dependent on the international criminal network in order to function at all,” observed Joy Gordon in the Foreign Policy’s “The Middle East Channel” blog.
The human costs of the sanctions are not limited to the difficulties they create in terms of medical shortages. The devaluation of Iran’s national currency, the rial, as a result of the sanctions, has made it extremely difficult for thousands of Iranian students studying in the foreign universities to afford their tuition and related fees. The depreciation of rial has also made it quite unreachable for Iranians to travel abroad since the air fares have increased almost threefold in the past 3 years and many European carriers have stopped their flights to and from Iran.
Iranians bear the brunt of the sanctions and one of their demands is the complete lifting of the sanctions. Iran and the P5+1 are slated to meet once again on November 7 and 8. Before the main meeting, nuclear and sanctions experts from the two sides will hold technical meetings to reach a consensus over a systematic framework for putting into practice the agreements reached during the first meeting in Geneva.
It is not in the interest of the West to continue pushing for new sanctions, as some Republicans of the U.S. Congress have done or leaving the previous sanctions in place. It will not contribute to the course of negotiations positively and will simply add to the suffering and economic woes of Iranians and will further complicate negotiations moving forward. In the end, the most rational decision that the United States and its European allies can take, however unlikely, is to lift the sanctions for two reasons. First, it will be seen as a good faith gesture on the part of the West, and secondly because the lifting of the sanctions will be a step on the path to reaching a deal with Iran to close the nuclear dossier forever.