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Jeune Afrique, France

Iran and the United States:
Can They Get Along?

By Patrick Seale

Washington has based its approach upon some of the politically oriented resolutions of the Security Council, on the unproven grounds that Iran is attempting to obtain nuclear weapons and is a threat to peace and international security.

Translated By Clare Durif

10 January 2013

Edited by Drue Fergison

France - Jeune Afrique - Original Article (French)

Tehran and Washington are expected to start talks in order to try to iron out their differences. But there is no shortage of pitfalls on both sides.

Over recent weeks, both the U.S. and Iranian media have raised the possibility of talks between Washington and Tehran. If such an initiative were to be confirmed, it could get U.S.-Iranian relations out of the deadlock they have been in since the shah, an ally of Washington, was overthrown by the Islamic Revolution of 1979. However, hardliners in both capitol cities are opposed to any direct dealings. In Washington, the “party of war” refuses to talk to the mullahs: It wants to bring them down. In Tehran, they don’t for a moment believe that the U.S. is looking for anything other than Iran’s slavish capitulation.

It is also being said that the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, together with Germany, the [so-called] “P5+1,” are considering a new round of talks with Iran on the nuclear issue, the first since last June. However, unless Washington and Tehran show more flexibility, any real progress is unlikely.

The outlook is bleak. The specter of an Israeli war against Iran has been hovering over the region for the last two years. In order to avert the danger of such an attack — which would have forced the involvement of a reluctant United States — President Obama subjected Iran to the toughest sanctions ever imposed on a country. War was avoided. But it will again feature on the agenda of the Israeli hardliners and their American supporters in 2013 if no progress is made.

Nuclear Program

A war against Iran, which could rapidly spread across the entire region, is the last thing the Middle East needs. Quite the contrary: A reduction in regional tensions is urgently required in order to encourage the possibility of a compromise that would resolve the Iranian crisis and also numerous other conflicts, such as the civil war in Syria or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Iranian question is particularly difficult, since it has more to do with geopolitical issues than details of nuclear technology. The U.S. considers the Islamic republic to be challenging its hegemony over the Gulf oil states. Israel, for its part, wants military supremacy over all of its neighbors. In 2003, the Hebrew state and its allies exerted intense pressure on the U.S. for the destruction of Iraq. It then turned against Iran, whose nuclear program threatens its atomic monopoly, unhesitatingly assassinating some Iranian scientists and, in cahoots with the U.S., waged a clandestine cyber war against Iran’s nuclear installations. In turn, Saudi Arabia and its Arab neighbors view the Shiite republic as a hostile power that threatens Sunni supremacy in the region and undermines the Arab political order.

Pariah State

These numerous geopolitical reasons mean that progress on the Iranian issue, within the scope of bilateral negotiations either with America or with the P5+1, is highly unlikely. And yet, with a minimum of goodwill, a compromise could be found.

What is Iran demanding? Firstly, that its entitlement to enrich uranium on its territory for peaceful purposes be recognized. This right is set out in Article IV of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, of which Iran is a signatory. Israel, which possesses a vast nuclear arsenal, has never signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and has always refused any inspection of its nuclear installations by the International Atomic Energy Agency, whereas Iran has accepted the regular monitoring of its nuclear activities for several years now. Furthermore, Tehran has on several occasions offered to cease its uranium enrichment by 20 percent if it was allowed to obtain fuel rods from abroad for its research reactor, which produces medical isotopes for one million cancer sufferers. It is prepared to maintain uranium enrichment below the five percent threshold — removing all risk of military proliferation — in exchange for the lifting of sanctions that target its oil exports, financial transactions and nuclear industry. Finally, Iran seeks recognition of its Islamic regime, the result of the 1979 revolution. It no longer wants to be treated as a pariah state, but as an important regional power.

Hard Line

Its chances of success appear slim. The U.S. Congress is campaigning for stiffer sanctions. Under pressure from Israel, the U.S. is insisting that Iran first abandon all uranium enrichment programs before it can be assured of obtaining any significant concessions. By imposing this extreme requirement, the U.S. is ignoring both the rights guaranteed by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the fact that the Islamic republic has long conformed to International Atomic Energy Agency requirements. Washington has based its approach upon some of the politically-oriented resolutions of the Security Council, such as resolution 1696 of July 2006, which requires a halt to all enrichment, on the unproven grounds that Iran is attempting to obtain nuclear weapons and is a threat to peace and international security.

Isn’t it time for the other P5 members — particularly Russia and China — to speak out against the punishments imposed at Washington’s instigation and try to figure out Tehran’s intentions themselves? In May 2010, Brazil and Turkey reached an agreement with Iran to send 1,200 kilograms of low-enriched uranium to Turkey (in return for 120 kilograms of minerals enriched at 20 percent). But the U.S. torpedoed it, preferring to further increase sanctions. An initiative by Russia and China to find a compromise could lead Washington to rethink its strategy, and even follow suit. However, Obama’s room to maneuver, hampered by a pro-Israeli Congress, seems very limited.



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