Interview with prominent Iranian political scientist Kaveh Afrasiabi



Kourosh Ziabari – Fars News Agency:
Following the November 24 agreement between Iran and the P5+1 bloc of six world powers, hopes were revived that the controversy over Iran’s nuclear program can be finally resolved in a peaceful and diplomatic manner.

A prominent Iranian academic and political author believes that the Geneva interim accord has the potential power to end the decade-long standoff between Iran and the Western powers over Iran’s nuclear activities, but its implementation demands goodwill and seriousness on the side of the United States and its European allies that are obliged by the Joint Plan of Action to refrain from imposing additional sanctions on Iran.

“The polls indicate that a solid majority of Americans support the Geneva agreement and, I hasten to add, the majority of members of US Congress probably do as well, in light of a recent letter by ten prominent lawmakers warning against new sanctions. As a result, the threat of new sanctions through Congress is unlikely to materialize particularly since Obama has threatened to veto any new sanctions bill,” said Dr. Kaveh Afrasiabi in an exclusive interview with Fars News Agency.

Dr. Afrasibai is a renowned political scientist living in the United States. His political writings regularly appear on several newspapers and news websites including Asia Times, International Herald Tribune, Press TV, UN Chronicle, New York Times, The Guardian, Russia Today, Washington Post, Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, The Nation and Harvard International Review.

Previously, Kaveh Afrasiabi has been a member of the Center for Strategic Research associated with the Islamic Republic of Iran’s Expediency Discernment Council. He has taught political science at the University of Tehran, Boston University, Bentley College and Binghamton University.

What follows is the text of Fars News Agency’s interview with Dr. Afrasiabi about the recent Geneva agreement, the conditions and difficulties of its implementation and the future of Iran-West relations in the light of the Geneva interim accord.

Q: What’s your assessment of the Geneva interim accord on Iran’s nuclear program? How can it contribute to the alleviation of the concerns of the Western powers over Iran’s nuclear actvities? Can it destroy the wall of mistrust between Iran and the United States and help them reach a substantive and viable mutual understanding for settling the longstanding disputes and conflicts?

A: This is an important and timely development that has the potential to end the Iran nuclear crisis and the associated sanctions. The whole sum is larger than the parts and the new dynamism it has already set into motion with multiple implications for Iran’s foreign policy objectives certainly deserves close scrutiny. The agreement should therefore be properly contextualized and viewed in tandem with the other Iranian foreign moves aimed at detente with the West and healthy regional relations.

Certainly, from “counter-proliferation” standpoint, the agreement is hailed by most nuclear experts precisely because it provides for greater transparency, voluntary self-limitations on the scope and level of enrichment activities, etc.

With respect to US-Iran, much depends on both the implementation of the agreement, i.e., “Joint Plan of Action,” and the emphasis is rightly placed on “joint” which means a sequence of near simultaneous steps on both sides, as well as on the follow-up talks for the final status deal. Meanwhile, Tehran and Washington need to continue their bilateral contacts and improve the climate between them in a variety of ways. On the opposite side, failure to reach a final agreement can set the relations back and cause further animosities, which is not in the interests of either nation.

Iran is blessed with a highly skilled nuclear team that is well-versed in the art of diplomacy and negotiation — a major plus that minimizes the risk of an unwanted loss at the end of arduous process.

Of course, it is a mistake to think that by agreeing to suspend 20 percent enrichment, Iran has given up a big leverage. This overlooks that by threatening to resume it and enrich even higher, in case the talks fail, Iran continues with an important card that is now highlighted by the deal. A process-oriented approach can avoid such simplistic misinterpretations.

Q: You noted in one of your recent articles that the European Union reneged on its commitments stipulated by the Geneva interim accord only a few weeks after the conclusion of the agreement by imposing sanctions on 17 Iranian companies and individuals. It had previously violated the 2004 Paris Agreement by which Iran had accepted to take some voluntary confidence-building measures in return for the recognition of its indigenous uranium enrichment program. All these infidelities make Europe an unreliable and untrustworthy partner for Iran. What’s your take on that?

A: I think the Europeans need to adopt a coherent, forward-looking approach that is not tainted with elements of bad-faith negotiation. So far, we have seen a lot of promises of alleviating EU sanctions but no action yet, except the addition of new entities on their sanctions list. So to win Iranian confidence, the EU needs to start delivering its part of the bargain immediately.

Q: What do you think about the fact that now, even following the signing of the Geneva agreement, there are some neo-conservative Senators and Representatives who are calling for sanctions and even military action against Iran? Is it true that they’re pressured by the Israeli lobby and the interest groups to hamper the path of diplomacy between Iran and the West?

A: The polls indicate that a solid majority of Americans support the Geneva agreement and, I hasten to add, the majority of members of US Congress probably do as well, in light of a recent letter by ten prominent lawmakers warning against new sanctions. As a result, the threat of new sanctions through Congress is unlikely to materialize particularly since Obama has threatened to veto any new sanctions bill. At the same time, such Congressional threats allow the US to play ‘good cop, bad cop’ through its executive and legislative branches for the sake of leveraging Iran, so it is not completely in conflict with the White House strategy.

Q: The fact that Israel is angry at the Geneva deal and has called it a “historic mistake” by which Iran “got the deal of century” simply attests that the agreement was a success for Iran. But why are some Arab nations in the Persian Gulf apprehensive and unhappy about the agreement? The agreement is seen as contributing to the peace and security of the Middle East. Why have some Arab states disparaged it?

A: Well, Netanyahu has somewhat amended himself and even tried to take some credit for the agreement and we should avoid premature conclusions about failure and or success for an on-going process that is rife with potential setbacks and is a “win-win” formula that can be achieved by a certain “loss” or rather “compromise” by both sides. With respect to the mixed Arab reaction, the Saudi government actually has “welcomed” it even though some of its diplomats have attacked it, reflecting their anxieties and uncertainties about the regional implication of the agreement. But, Iran must continue to assure these states that it does not seek to exploit the agreement and it does not represent a “zero-sum” with respect to their interests.

Q: Immediately after the nuclear deal was signed between Iran and the six world powers, the U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry rushed to claim that the deal has slowed down Iran’s nuclear activities and that the Joint Plan of Action does not recognize Iran’s right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. This is while they had acknowledged Iran’s nuclear rights, particularly the uranium enrichment program, in their statements prior to the signing of the deal. Can we interpret their new statements in the light of their fear of the hawkish Congressmen and the influential Israeli lobby and that they want to downplay the fact that they have made important concessions in favor of Iran in the agreement?

A: I think that is a fair interpretation and we must take into consideration the exigencies of domestic politics in US, without however overlooking the risks of undue influence by these hawkish forces on the administration, which is showing signs of a ‘split personality’ on the nuclear rights of Iran. But the administration has signed the agreement that recognizes Iran’s rights, albeit with certain caveats pending future negotiation and following the law of treaties must act accordingly.

Q: Iran and the P5+1 have said that they will work toward realizing a final solution to the nuclear standoff while the 6-month interim agreement is being implemented. However, such statements by the American officials that the aim of the nuclear talks is to dismantle Iran’s nuclear program altogether are certainly counterproductive in the course of negotiations for a final status agreement. Won’t such a policy and such statements derail the two sides’ efforts to reach the final deal?

A: I would not attach too much importance to such public rhetoric for domestic consumption and prefer to focus on what the US and other powers have already agreed in writing. That sets the framework for follow-up talks and limits the Western hands vis-à-vis Iranian nuclear program.

Q: What are the major obstacles to the realization of a comprehensive deal between Iran and the six world powers? It’s undeniable that in a mutually-agreed deal, both sides should make some compromises. What elements do you think should be included in the final deal which meets the expectations of the Iranian and the Western side, allays the concerns of both and give them a viable

A: There are a host of technical, political, and legal obstacles that in fact represent so many deal-breakers.  The implementation of the agreement on Iran’s part is relatively easy, yet it calls for new policy guidelines and even change of European legislation, together with the fact that it is up to the private sectors in the West to take advantage of the new loopholes, that are temporary and thus raise concerns on their part. The final deal must of course spell the end of nearly all the Iran sanctions and the fact that the US and European sanctions laws have conflated the nuclear and non-nuclear issues is a problem that needs to be addressed in these negotiations.

The West should have no doubt that the imposition of any further sanctions under any guise including the expansion of existing sanctions will stop the deal, and that means steadfast Iranian warning that removes the slightest doubt and thus secures the process.

This interview was originally published on Fars News Agency.