Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Opinion: Time for Obama and Rouhani to decide | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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The contradiction between continuing sanctions against Iran and the US Congress’s calls to initiate direct negotiations with Iran, not to mention the US’s hardline stance in the P5+1 talks, make it difficult for the two parties to start working towards establishing normal relations.

The success of the next rounds of nuclear talks and the direct negotiations between the two countries concerns the US far more than it concerns Iran and the P5+1, the five permanent UN Security Council members and Germany. Therefore, some changes to the status quo are necessary.

The contradictory behavior of the US is among the primary factors that need to be changed. The US pressures other countries to back the sanctions it imposes, while at the same time taking part in P5+1 negotiations with Iran.

US influence over the P5+1, as it seeks to prolong nuclear talks until Iran is obliged to submit to the P5+1’s demands, is also an element that requires revision.

The US has tried to manipulate the nature of Iran’s nuclear program on various occasions. They present the Iranian nuclear case, which is essentially a technical or legal issue, as a political or military one that requires referral to the UN Security Council.

Obviously, the Iranian supreme leader’s statement “that the solution to Iran’s nuclear case is easy, but the P5+1 do not want it to happen” can best be understood in this light. Now, Rouhani’s election represents an opportunity for Iran and the P5+1, in the same way that Obama was an opportunity for the US and Iran, particularly if he fulfills his pledges in his respectful New Year’s message to Iran’s government and people.

For years, the Iran and the US have not had dovish presidents at the same time. Even though Khatami’s presidency coincided with Clinton’s for a limited time, they did not have the same opportunity that Obama and Rouhani possess today.

If Obama and John Kerry view Rouhani from the perspective of Jack Straw and Joschka Fischer, then we will face two positive outcomes. However, if they approach Rouhani showing a dove’s face but with the claws of a hawk, then we will be facing two bad outcomes.

The two good outcomes would be the resolution of Iran’s nuclear issue, as well as Iran’s fully fledged cooperation in international relations, and reinforcement of reformism and moderation over radicalism inside Iran.

The two bad outcomes would be the escalation of the crisis surrounding Iran’s nuclear program to the extent that Iran could leave the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), while this could also give power to radical ideas in Iran. This is similar to what former nuclear negotiator Hossein Mousavian told the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency about Iran’s possible reaction to increasing pressures and sanctions. Stressing that Rouhani opposes radical policies, Mousavian proposed that the US take practical and positive measures in response to his “cooperation and constructive engagement,” which would thereby enhance prospects for peace.

If the discourse based on mutual respect turns into a discourse of threats and pressures, it would be seriously dangerous. Obama and Rouhani—both advocates of change—could fail to break the current stalemate. A Republican president similar to George W. Bush might come to power after Obama. As a result, Iranians might feel disappointed about Rouhani in the next presidential election and therefore elect a hardline president. This would result in grave tensions growing in Iran–US ties, engaging both parties for several years on all fronts—a conflict that Iran does not want to happen. The US also does not want this to happen unless it makes a mistaken calculation in the belief that the circumstances make Iran vulnerable.

One should not forget that in this case, Iran would take both the US and itself to the precipice. This is not a preemptive bluff, but a description of how Iran would behave during a time of crisis. The supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, warned against the US conspiring against Iran’s nuclear program, saying that Washington actually aims to overthrow the Tehran regime, and if they were not stubbornly insisting on this, then the nuclear issue could be resolved easily.

Now there is an opportunity to choose between an Iran that conforms to international laws and policies and a nonconformist Iran. The US is set to play a key role in this game, whether choosing a diplomatic policy similar to the diplomatic dispute resolution seen in the 1981 Algiers Accords and coexisting amicably with Iran, or choosing an aggressive policy toward Iran that will only further aggravate the crisis.