A welcome pact

11 Apr 2015


The writer is an author and a lawyer based in Mumbai.
The writer is an author and a lawyer based in Mumbai.

IRAN’S accord on April 2 with the P5+1 on the nuclear question is a first step towards “constructive engagement with the world”. President Hassan Rouhani’s comment accurately reflects objectives which Iran has doggedly pursued in recent decades and which it aspires to pursue hereafter.

As Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, then head of the IAEA, astutely noticed a decade ago, what Iran sought was a “grand bargain” with the US. The nuclear issue was but a part of it.

Judging by the course of the negotiations since the interim agreement, called the joint plan of action, was concluded in November 2013, the talks from now till Jun 30, 2015, the deadline for the conclusion of the final agreement, will not be easy.

US and Iranian leaders want to put the past behind.

The only joint document issued publicly at Lausanne on April 2 was a seven-paragraph statement by Mohammad Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister, and Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s foreign policy chief. It merely listed the ‘parameters’ that will guide the next three months of talks.

Both, the US and Iran rushed to issue their respective detailed accounts of the Lausanne accord to silence hardliners at home. They overlap on some points, differ on others; especially on the pace at which economic sanctions will be lifted. Immediately, claims Iran; step by step claims the US.

What gives ground for hope is the will to settle on both sides and the fine rapport between the principal negotiators. Zarif, educated at the University of Denver and San Francisco State, served as ambassador to the UN. Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Agency, negotiated the nitty-gritty with a contemporary at the MIT, US energy secretary Ernest J. Moniz. Secretary of State John Kerry was set on a deal. President Barack Obama faces not only turbulent opponents in the US Congress but also allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia.

There are critics in Iran as well. Hossein Shariatmadari, editor-in-chief of the state newspaper Kayhan, remarked: “We should say in a word that we gave a saddled horse and received a torn bridle.” The semi-official news agency FARS carried this censure.

But what is far more relevant is that after the Friday prayers on April 3, traditional hardliners hailed the accord. It enjoys the discreet backing of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the elite and the public at large.

Everyone knows that the economy will receive a boost once the sanctions are lifted. Iran will be able to sell oil to the EU. Curbs on sales to Asia and on bank transactions will go. Iran hopes that frozen funds, about $100 billion, will return. It is not surprising that Foreign Minister Zarif returned home to a hero’s welcome. Former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani praised President Obama’s understanding of Iran.

The most important factor in the forthcoming parleys is that the leaders of both countries are not only determined to put the past behind them but to reach out to their respective peoples and educate them about the realities of the present-day world. Not the least important part of a leader’s duties is his readiness to perform the role of a teacher to his people; even at the risk of courting unpopularity.

The top leaders’ convergence of outlook is striking. Soon after the accord, President Rouhani said: “Some think that we must either fight the world or surrender to world powers.

“We say it is neither of those. There is a third way. We can have cooperation with the world. With those countries with which we have a cold relationship, we would like a better relationship. And if we have tension or hostility with any countries, we want an end to tension and hostility with those countries.”

Earlier this month, President Obama told Thomas L. Friedman of the New York Times: “If in fact we can resolve these issues diplomatically, we are more likely to be safe, more likely to be secure, in a better position to protect our allies, and who knows Iran may change. If it doesn’t, our deterrence capabilities, our military superiority stays in place. … We’re not relinquishing our capacity to defend ourselves or our allies. In that situation, why wouldn’t we test it?”

In glaring contrast the George W. Bush administration’s attitude was: “We don’t speak to evil.” In May 2003 Iran sent a comprehensive proposal to the US covering regional issues besides the nuclear question. It was conveyed through the Swiss ambassador who was snubbed by the US. The proposal was vetted, among others, by Mohammad Javad Zarif.

One hopes that the Lausanne accord marks a break with US policies not only towards Iran but towards other countries also. There is no alternative to diplomacy. Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Libya testify to the ruin which use of force can achieve.

The writer is an author and a lawyer based in Mumbai.

Published in Dawn, April 11th, 2015

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