Interview with the University of London professor Arshin Adib-Moghaddam

 

Arshin-Adib

Kourosh Ziabari – Fars News Agency: As the representatives of Iran and the six world powers (China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States) held a new round of negotiations in Geneva this week, the international community is waiting anxiously to see whether the decade-long controversy over Iran’s nuclear program can finally come to an end or not.

Iran’s newly elected President Hassan Rouhani has vowed to find a resolution to settle his country’s disputes with the world powers in a period of less than one year. He has promised to take up a conciliatory approach toward the West and convince the United States and its allies to freeze the anti-Iranian economic sanctions.

In order to discuss the importance of the latest talks between Iran and the six world powers in Geneva and the implications of Iran-US rapprochement for Israel and the Arab states of the Persian Gulf region, Fars News Agency has conducted an exclusive interview with Dr. Arshin Adib-Moghaddam.

A prominent intellectual and researcher, Adib-Moghaddam is Reader in Comparative Politics and International Relations at SOAS, University of London and the Chair of the Centre for Iranian Studies. Dr. Adib-Moghaddam’s new book “On the Arab Revolts and the Iranian Revolution: Power and Resistance Today” was published by Bloomsbury. His other books include “A Metahistory of the Clash of Civilisations: Us and them beyond Orientalism” and “The International Politics of the Persian Gulf: A cultural genealogy.”

What follows is the text of FNA’s interview with Arshin Adib-Moghaddam on Iran’s nuclear file and the new Iranian administration’s efforts to find a diplomatic solution to the standoff with the West.

Q: What’s your assessment of the recent nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 group in Geneva? Both sides hailed the talks as constructive and detailed, saying that they are optimistic about finding a solution to Iran’s nuclear standoff in less than a year. What’s your viewpoint on the talks and its achievements?

A: The talks were important because they set a new context for the negotiations. Geneva should be seen as a trust-building measure primarily between the United States and Iran. I have argued and conceptualized how discourse affects policy and how a new tone and choice of words can set a constructive framework for policy initiatives.

Words can kill or create hope. There is a difference between the “axis of evil” theme of the Bush years and the “unclench your fist” rhetoric of the Obama administration.

International diplomacy requires an understanding of world politics as a positive-sum game where advances in national interests cannot be achieved in absolute terms. The international system is a social arena where interest is relative. Successful diplomacy acknowledges this inherent interdependence. Let me add that such an approach is less prone to error and fatal decisions which lead to war. For instance, the Bush administration believed in the utopia of a unipolar world order entirely dominated by the United States, a zero-sum constellation where the US could take it all. The disasters for US foreign policies in Iraq and Afghanistan are a direct result of this hubristic self-perception.

Geneva is indicative of both a new thinking in the United States galvanized by the prudently cautious approach of the Obama administration and the new constellation in Iran, which confines unwarranted adventures in international affairs and stresses as much as possible the panacea of what I have called constructive diplomacy. We are witnessing a fortuitous conflagration of two sober minded administrations in power. Now is the time to take advantage of this moment and to work towards a lasting framework for engagement between the two countries.

Iran should be careful not to throw out the baby with the bathwater, however, the country has legitimate security interests that need to be pursued as a part of the nuclear negotiations, but really this is the time to strive for a solution to the impasse about Iran’s nuclear energy program. It is a moment of great promise.

Q: As echoed in the statements of their high-ranking politicians and intelligence officials, it seems that the Israeli regime and the Arab monarchies of the Persian Gulf region are annoyed at the possibility of a deal between Iran and the United States and the renormalization of bilateral relations between the two countries. What can be the main reasons they are afraid of an agreement which can lead to the conclusion of disputes between Iran and the United States?

A: As I have mentioned in a recent exclusive interview with the Tehran Times, the Netanyahu administration is increasingly nervous about the current talks between Iran and the United States. However, Israel is not a one-dimensional country. There are many voices within Israel who are openly opposed to the right-wing policies of the Netanyahu administration, there is an anti-occupation movement which campaigns for a Palestinian state and there are many who are appalled and embarrassed by the pedestrian performance of Netanyahu on the international stage.

Criticism of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands and the country’s nuclear arsenal is real. Hence, it is analytically prudent to have a differentiated understanding of the social and political realities in contemporary Israel. Now, the Rouhani administration, with one well orchestrated campaign, has turned the table on Netanyahu. Suddenly, it is him who appears hawkish, unreasonable and impatient. The new context that I talked about, constituted by the discourse of what I have called the constructive diplomacy by the current Iranian President, has made it that much more difficult to blame Iran as a convenient bogeyman which can be found responsible for the inability of regional states to forge an inclusive security architecture outlawing militaristic adventures. Hence, we suddenly see a rather ironic constellation that some Saudi concerns are congruent with Israeli demands.

This can’t be in the interest of either party in terms of reputation, but it is indicative of how insecure some regional leaders feel about themselves. Really, if these states would be self-confident and self-reliant they would not base their fears and hopes on whether or not two external actors such as Iran and the United States forge closer ties. They would rely on their own resources, on their own societies to sustain their national interests, rather than to exist in perpetual fear about the whims of big brother America. I mean for some Arab intellectuals such as Marwan Bishara, whose opinions I respect, to express their concerns about reconciliation between Iran and the United States is indicative of a wider sense of political paralysis after the Arab revolts which may be unwarranted.

As I have argued in my new book On the Arab revolts and the Iranian revolution, the new spaces of democratic politics opened up by the Arab revolts and the new calls for national independence and dignity are likely to persist in the long term. For the countries of the Arab intifada, this means that the external environment, Iran and the United States included, should be given secondary importance. Allow me to add that recourse to pan-Arab sentiments, expressed in some quarters of the intelligentsia, are ill-suited for a regional constellation that includes three non-Arab actors such as Turkey, Iran and Israel, several inter-Arab quarrels and overlapping identities that do not lend themselves to ideational delineation.

Identities are by far more complex these days, we are all effects of numerous ideational inventions. In terms of regional security, this means that basing a project for a viable security architecture on invented identities is futile. The starting point has to be that the security of regional states is interdependent. Saudi Arabia can never attain manifest security in exclusion of Iran and the other way around. Iraq’s and Syria’s security cannot be guaranteed without the inclusion of regional actors such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Iran.

The current spoilers of the Iranian-American rapprochement are short sighted if they think that they can forge security structures without one of the oldest members of the regional system. Iran, in short, can never be excluded from the region it is embedded in, politically, culturally and religiously. What is required at this stage is a concerted diplomatic effort to build trust between Iran and the other regional stakeholders, Saudi Arabia in particular.

Q: It seems that President Obama is under a huge amount of pressure by the neo-conservative members of the Congress and the Senate as a number of Republican senators have sent a letter to him, asking the government to intensify the sanctions against Iran. Can President Obama resist the pressures and continue the path of diplomacy he has cautiously adopted toward Iran?

A: So far he has. Just this week the White House invited leading pro-Israeli lobbyists in order to make the case against further sanctions on Iran. At the core of neo-conservative ideology is a continuous preparation for war. As such it is one of the most aggressive movements in our current era. It is institutionalized, well funded and systemic, i.e. it is a part of the wider political culture in the United States and beyond. But neo-conservatives are not in power. Obama has made it clear, in words and in deeds, that he is willing to engage with Iran.

His actions so far, cautious as they have to be due to the domestic constraints set by his right-wing opponents, suggest to me that he is genuinely interested in finding a solution. He may even be flirting with the idea that peace with Iran would be a major achievement of his Presidency and a central signpost in the legacy that he wants to leave behind. Obama is not a war president. Wars do not sell anymore. Rather the contrary they lose votes. After Iraq and Afghanistan, societies in the west are war-weary. The composition of Europe in particular is changing quickly. There are many leftist, Muslim, minority voices in favor of peace.

They have made their voices heard within civil society and in the corridors of power. This peace dividend is one of the effects of the democratic order in western and central European democracies.

Q: President Hassan Rouhani has stated that his administration is ready to take confidence-building steps and show more transparency in Iran’s nuclear activities. How should the Western governments respond to this goodwill gesture? Can’t lifting the hard-hitting economic sanctions be the first step toward a negotiated deal between the two sides?

A: I have campaigned against the sanctions regime for a long time now, as you know, not at least because of their human toll and because they do not yield viable policy solutions. If the current formula is to produce tangible results, it is pivotal that the EU and the United States will be responsive; the current track requires an astute focus on reciprocity. Once Iran implements the first substantive trust-building measure, the recent joint statement with the IAEA which set out an action plan for the future was a good step forward, the US and the EU need to reciprocate with step by step sanctions relief. From an objective perspective, the negotiations can only succeed if both parties find their minimal interests represented and implemented on an ongoing basis.

This approach restricts maximalist demands on both sides and focuses attention as much as possible on a dialectic between giving and taking. At that stage, Iran’s oil sector will receive the attention it needs. The next challenge for the Rouhani administration would be to distribute the proceeds of the international investment to the lower income strata of Iranian society, maybe even through subsidies for food, clothing and shelter. It is them, after all, who are bearing the brunt of the current sanctions regime.

This interview was originally published on the Fars News Agency.