Iran Should Not Allow the Talks to Be a “Success” If …

In this post, Shirin Shafaie offers a policy recommendation paper for Iran ahead of the Moscow talks between the P5+1 and Iran.


By Shirin Shafaie

Iran should not allow the Moscow talks (18 June, 2012) to be announced, declared or referred to as “successful”, “positive”, “constructive” or even “promising” by the other party or the Western media in the absence of absolutely concrete and tangible concessions from the West in terms of sanctions relief and normalisation of Iran’s nuclear file in the IAEA. I explain why.

There are three general plausible scenarios that could happen in the aftermath of the Moscow talks. One of them amounts to political suicide for Iran, the second one means almost nothing to Iran, and the third one could be an optimal solution for all sides, meaning a win-win resolution or political suicide for the West with minimal harm to Iran.

First Scenario: Worst Case Scenario for Iran, Best Case Scenario for P5+1

When Iran and the P5+1 meet in Moscow on Monday, the other party will press Iran to take the first step based on the so-called principle of reciprocity and push Iran to at least declare its intention to take this or that step (meaning suspension of 20% enrichment, allowing inspection of Parchin, and implementing the Additional Protocol, to name some of the most important items on the P5+1 wish list) in return for a “declaration” of reciprocal steps by the West (meaning freezing of the EU oil embargo and Western unilateral sanctions against Iran’s Central Bank, revision and gradual lifting of the UNSC resolutions, normalisation of Iran’s nuclear file in the IAEA, to name some of the most important items on Iran’s wish list).

If this happens on Monday, the P5+1 and the world media will quickly announce the talks as “positive”, “promising”, “constructive” and overall a “success”. This would be detrimental for Iran.

Because this would keep oil prices “down” and “stable” at least for the next few months, something which can 1) amount to success for President Obama in the run up to the American presidential elections in November; 2) also benefit Russia who has already benefited from one round of high oil prices in December 2011 and January 2012. Russia managed to further subsidies its domestic energy consumption thanks to the extra taxes the Medvedev Government received from the surplus oil revenues. This helped Vladimir Putin’s victory in the country’s presidential elections last March. Now Russia wants to keep oil prices stable to help the American incumbent president win re-election in November so that he can move on to things “that can be solved, in particular missile defence” in Eastern Europe. Moreover, the Russian blend of oil (for export) is most similar to the Iranian blend, which makes Russian oil a perfect alternative for European oil refineries (when the Iran oil embargo comes into effect). Russia only needs to be vocal in its defence of Iran’s nuclear rights so not to appear in public as betraying the Iranians; 3) low and stable oil prices will also amount to significant relief for Europe and a bargaining chip for China and other customers of Iranian oil in the aftermath of the looming Western oil embargo against Iran.

Accordingly, this would only weaken Iran’s negotiating position in the global energy market post-Moscow talks. There will not be any “real” sanctions relief in this scenario. Iran will be the biggest loser if the talks are announced as a success without any immediate tangible concessions to the Iranians.

Second Scenario: Second Worst Case Scenario for Iran; Second Best Case Scenario for P5+1

Under this scenario, there would still be no immediate tangible concessions to Iran (in the form of sanctions relief or normalisation of Iran’s nuclear file) nor any grand “declaration of intention” by either side for reciprocal steps but talks would still continue on a lower level. They might still be described by the world media as “promising” and Iran as “willing” to engage more in the future. The outcome of this scenario would still be like that of scenario number one, only on a lower level.

Third Scenario: Optimal Solution for Both Sides or Second Best Scenario for Iran and the Worst Case Scenario for the P5+1

Under this scenario, Iran would demand nonnegotiable immediate tangible concessions (i.e. the freezing of the EU oil embargo, the lifting of unilateral, Western sanctions against Iran’s Central Bank), and a negotiable “declaration” of further reciprocal steps (e.g. revision of the UNSC resolutions and normalisation of Iran’s nuclear file in the IAEA) in return for immediate tangible concessions from Iran (i.e. signing and ratifying the most recent agreement with the IAEA which, I think, includes permission for the IAEA to inspect the non-nuclear military site in Parchin; and perhaps the “provisional” freezing of 20% uranium enrichment possibly in return for extra concessions say air-plane parts which the West is very enthusiastic about selling to Iran) and a “declaration” of willingness for further reciprocal steps (such as implementation of the Additional Protocol and continuance of uranium enrichment only to 3.5% and 5%; note that we are talking about “declaration of intentions” here not actual and immediate implementation of these steps).

Anything short of this, and I mean absolutely anything short of this, should be considered as an absolute failure of the talks. Iran should be very vocal in announcing the talks as a failure to world media and take concrete actions to back its words if the above scenario is not completely realized because:

      1. Doing so will at least keep oil prices high and unstable, something that Iran can benefit from in its negotiations with its oil customers in the event the upcoming Western oil embargo moves forward (Yes, it would also make the foreign currency market in Iran unstable but that is a risk Iran will have to take if it wants to exert some meaningful influence in the upcoming talks).

      2. This will surprise the P5+1 by flipping their agenda upside down and prevent them from fooling Iran into accepting an “empty box of chocolate”.

      3. This will deeply worry President Obama and President Putin, as well as China and Europe, making them more willing to take more meaningful, immediate and tangible steps to keep Iran at the negotiating table and, thereby, maintain low and stable oil prices.

Even though this scenario could be a win-win solution for all sides involved in Moscow Talks as well as for the rest of the world (save the Israeli regime and the Western military-industrial complex), one should still expect the other party to try and squeeze maximum concessions out of Iran in return for as little as possible. It is up to Iran to keep the stakes high for the other party. Iran has no reason to worry about a military attack against its nuclear installations in the event of the talks’ failure, as this would be absolutely counter-productive for the attacking country. Currently, the main goal for the other parties (at least until the American presidential elections in November) is to keep oil prices down and stable.

In fact, how the talks are labeled on Monday might be the most important aspect of this round of negotiations. The Iranian negotiating team should be aware of this fact and use its words extremely carefully when describing the talks to the Western media (they may use different words for describing the talks to the Iranian domestic media!). They should see this aspect as one of their strongest bargaining positions. They should not let the other party get away with conveniently describing the talks as “successful”, “constructive” or even “promising” when this is far from the case for the Iranians.


This post was originally published in Iran Review on 15 June 2012

About the author: Shirin Shafaie is Researcher at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London and the President of the SOAS Research Students’ Society.

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