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State  of  play:  the  Iranian  nuclear  negotiations   Interview  with  Dr  Farhang  Morady  and  Dr  Dibyesh  Anand     By  Kurosh  Amini     The  interview  was  conducted  before  Iran’s  deal  with  the  International  Community  originally  published  in   QH  newspaper   What  do  you  think  of  the  current  negotiations?  Will  they  lead  to  any  results?     Farhang:   It  has  already  led  to  some  results:  the  threat  of  yet  another  war  in  the  Middle  East  and  the  fact  that  Iran   is  talking  to  America  after  33  years  are  a  reflection  that  some  progress  has  been  made  since  the   revolution  in  1979.  In  fact  Iran’s  new  president,  Hassan  Rouhani,  has  declared  that  he  is  determined  to   find  a  resolution  to  settle  the  continuing  dispute  between  the  western  powers  and  the  Islamic  Republic.   During  his  election  campaign,  Rouhani  promised  to  find  a  conciliatory  approach  towards  the  West,   hoping  this  would  reduce  the  increasing  impact  of  sanctions  on  Iran’s  economy.  Indeed,  since  the   beginning  of  the  dialogue  between  the  West  and  Iran,  pressure  on  Iran’s  crisis  driven  economy  has   lessened.  The  heavy  Western  sanctions  have  had  a  huge  impact  with  inflation  reaching  over  40%,   unemployment  heading  to  four  million  and  the  Iranian  currency  losing  its  value  by  100%.  Although  there   has  been  some  progress  since,  the  signs  for  Iran  remain  ominous  if  the  negotiations  do  not  reach  a  good   outcome.  The  positive  outcome  of  the  negotiations  would  mean  an  acknowledgement  by  the  West  of   Iran  as  a  regional  power.     Even  partial  reconciliation  between  Iran  and  the  West,  particularly  the  US,  will  result  in  a  transformation   of  the  whole  geopolitics  of  the  region.  Iran  and  the  US  can  fight  the  common  enemies  such  as  Salafi-­‐ jihadists  in  the  region.  Or,  although  unlikely  at  the  present  time,  the  possibilities  of  future  US  investment   in  Iran,  especially  in  the  energy  industry,  as  this  would  give  the  US  the  chance  to  muscle  out  their   competitors  China  and  Russia  and  kickstart  Iran’s  economy.  Hence  the  US  hopes  this  will  extend  its   influence  of  Southwest  Asia.     Therefore,  a  new  discourse  appears  to  be  developing  on  both  sides  and  it  remains  to  be  seen  how  the   implications  of  the  new  language  of  moderation  will  have  a  positive  long  term  impact  in  policy  initiatives  in   both  Iran  and  the  West.      

Dibyesh:   To  add  to  what  Farhang  is  saying,  to  me  the  interesting  question  related  to  this  is  why  this  is  taking  place   right  now,  why  are  they  willing  to  negotiate  right  now  and  not  10  years  ago?    Two  important  contexts   which  most  of  the  media  does  not  cover,  one  is  Asia.  The  main  principal  focus  of  the  US  is  going  to  be   Asia  and  not  the  Middle  East,  they  have  made  it  very  clear  that  by  2020  they  want  more  than  50%  of  the   energy  of  the  US  military  and  navy  to  be  focused  on  Asia:  China,  India  and  Japan.  America  is  very  keen  


on  reducing  their  footprint  in  the  Middle  Eastern  region  and  very  few  people  talk  about  that  in  this   context.    In  one  sense  they  need  tensions  to  be  reduced  in  the  region  and  to  have  all  the  regional   powers  trying  to  balance  each  other  off.  They  don’t  really  want  to  have  a  problem  with  Iran.  The  second   possible  factor,  we  don’t  really  know  for  sure  as  it’s  just  a  speculation,  is  to  do  with  the  War  on  Terror,   or  the  so-­‐called  War  on  Terror.  The  US  has  allies  from  where  most  of  the  terrorists  come  from  and   America’s  enemies  in  the  region  are  mainly  Iran,  then  Syria,  who  are  Shi’ite  and  generally  haven’t  been   involved  in  international  terrorism.  That  could  be  another  factor  in  US  calculations  as  to  why  they  want   to  therefore  have  better  relations  with  the  Shi’ite  powers  and  not  only  Sunni  powers.  Israel  and  Saudi   Arabia  do  play  a  crucial  role  here,  so  they  are  trying  to  balance  them.  I  think  what’s  helping  the  US  in   this  context  is  the  recent  elections  in  Iran  and  the  realisation  of  the  Iranians  that  they  need  to  negotiate   with  the  US  partly,  at  least  on  what’s  happening  in  Syria.  I  mean  Iran  is  an  important  power,  but  it  is   surrounded  by  different  powers  that  see  Iran  as  an  enemy.  In  Syria,  Iran  is  unlikely  to  win  but  it  is  also   unlikely  to  lose,  if  these  negotiations  succeed  -­‐  and  it  is  a  big  if  -­‐  it  would  create  a  new  balance  of  power   in  the  region,  where  the  US  can  leave  Iran,  Israel  and  Saudi  Arabia  and  possibly  Egypt  to  balance  each   other  without  anyone  becoming  paramount.         What  will  be  the  implications  of  a  potential  agreement  for  the  region?  Or  the  implications  of  there  being   no  agreement?       Farhang:   To  answer  this  question  one  needs  to  understand  the  Middle  East  over  the  last  30  years.  The  region  has   been  unstable  for  decades,  especially  since  the  Iranian  revolution  of  1979,  threatening  the  Middle   Eastern  states  who  ruled  undemocratically  for  years.  We  also  witnessed  the  occupation  of  Afghanistan   by  Russia  in  1979,  resulting  in  the  emergence  of  the  Taliban  supported  by  the  West.  This  was  followed   by  military  invasion  in  Afghanistan  by  the  US  and  the  allied  forces  in  2001  and  then  Iraq  in  2003.  The   consequences  for  the  US  have  been  huge  in  terms  of  economic  loss  and  lives.  Indeed,  according  to  some   polls  73%  of  the  US  population  do  not  wish  to  support  yet  another  war.     Iran  has  a  population  of  75  million,  over  70%  of  whom  are  under  35  years  of  age,  alongside  Turkey  and   possibly  Egypt,  who  have  similar  demographics  and  play  an  important  role  in  a  region  littered  with   conflicts.  Although  Egypt  is  going  through  domestic  political  uncertainty,  it  continues  to  play  a  vital  role   in  the  Arab  world.     Iran  is  very  well  geopolitically  situated  in  the  region,  in  terms  of  being  close  to  Central  Asia,  possessing   16%  of  the  world’s  oil  reserves  from  the  north  and  to  the  Persian  Gulf  in  the  south.  The  key  question   should  be:  how  stable  will  the  Middle  East  be  for  all  the  different  powers  by  having  a  stable  region.  For   Iran  the  negotiations  could  be  a  win/win  situation:  domestically  it  can  provide  some  kind  of  breathing   space  for  its  crisis-­‐driven  economy,  regionally  it  will  increase  their  influence,  particularly  important  as   the  Syrian  crisis  could  have  led  to  Tehran’s  reducing  influence.  This  may  also  provide  the  US  and  its  


European  partners  with  access  to  the  Iranian  market  and  thwart  a  potential  Russian  and  Chinese   challenge.     The  sticking  point  for  the  Islamic  Republic  is  its  legitimate  security  and  the  threat  that  the  US  and  its   allies  may  cause  to  Iran.  It  is  this  that  forced  Iran  to  develop  its  nuclear  capacity.  This  negotiation  may   provide  a  resolution  to  solve  both  Iran’s  nuclear  energy  programme  and  its  security.        

Dibyesh:        If  there  is  a  deal,  the  biggest  impact  would  be  that  the  region  will  take  a  step  closer  to  normality;  it’s   unlikely  to  be  a  case  where  the  US  and  Iran  will  become  allies  or  friends,  that  will  not  happen,  what  is   more  likely  to  happen  is  that  the  relationship  would  become  normal  and  less  toxic  than  it  is.  I  mean  it  is   difficult  to  imagine  the  Iranian  Revolution  will  survive  if  it  completely  gives  up  on  anti-­‐Americanism  and   all  of  that.  So  it  will  be  more  likely  a  normal  state,  so  that’s  one  impact  on  Iran.  The  impact  on  the  US   would  be  that  it  will  allow  them  to  keep  its  policy  to  reduce  its  footprint  in  the  Middle  East  and  move   towards  Asia.  As  Farhang  is  pointing  out,  unlike  the  First  Gulf  War  that  was  funded  by  Saudis  and   Kuwaitis  and  therefore  was  profitable  for  the  West,  the  Second  Gulf  war  cost  the  US  a  lot  of  money  and   much  of  the  power  has  shifted  to  Iran  or  the  contracts  have  gone  to  the  Chinese  or  others.  So  they  do   need  to  tackle  this  region.  If  there  is  a  resolution,  it  would  be  a  normalisation  of  US-­‐Iranian  relations  but   it’s  contingent  on  what  happens  with  Saudi  Arabia  and  Iran  and  what  happens  with  Turkey  and  Iran.   Turkey  is  a  pragmatic  state;  a  lot  of  what  happens  could  still  lead  them  to  deal  with  Iran  in  a  decent   manner.  The  bigger  issue  is  what  the  Saudi  reaction  will  be,  as  we  have  seen  how  Saudi  Arabia  is   working  closer  with  Israel  in  order  to  prevent  the  US  having  any  type  of  deal.  If  the  deal  does  not   happen,  what  we  are  going  to  see  is  an  unstable  region.  It  will  remain  unstable  and  the  war  in  Syria  will   spread  and  in  Iran,  because  of  economic  sanctions,  it  will  be  more  unstable  and  therefore  the  region  will   be  more  unstable.  Something  I  will  add  to  the  first  question  is  why  Obama  is  suddenly  keen,  and  it’s   partly  because  he  is  in  his  second  term  and  wants  to  make  a  mark  -­‐  he  can’t  do  anything  in  Palestine  as   Americans  have  no  power  to  persuade  Israel  to  do  anything  on  Palestine,  but  to  be  honest  no  Arab   states  are  worried  about  the  Palestinians.  So  now  the  secondary  legacy  that  Obama  can  can  have  is   maybe  normalise  relations  with  Iran  and  therefore  try  to  detoxify  it  and  focus  more  attention  on  the   more  dynamic  and  economically  active  regions  of  the  world  and  that  is  Asia  Pacific.       What  do  you  make  of  France’s  position?   Farhang:   This  depends  on  what  5  +  1  is  planning  to  do;  they  could  play  a  good  cop,  bad  cop  role.  It  could  be   interpreted  as  the  French  are  supporting  the  Israelis.  There  may  be  some  truth  in  that  but  the  biggest   supporter  of  the  Israelis  since  its  establishment  is  the  USA.  To  suggest  anything  different  is  mistaken.  I   believe  the  French  anti-­‐Iranian  stand  in  the  negotiations  and  its  support  of  Israel  is  a  bit  exaggerated.   What  seems  interesting  is  that  the  content  of  the  negotiation  was  supposed  to  be  secret  but  somehow  


the  French  Foreign  Minister  revealed  his  country’s  anxiety  over  certain  elements  of  Iran’s  nuclear   programme.  It  is  not  clear  whether  this  leak  was  agreed  with  the  US,  Britain  and  the  others.     France,  like  any  other  Western  country,  is  concerned  at  what  a  possible  deal  means  for  them  i.e.  would   they  have  access  to  the  Iranian  market?  According  to  some  reports  France  has  already  signed  a  contract   worth  $913  million  with  UAE  to  buy  military  satellites.  The  Saudis  have  also  signed  a  deal  of  $1.5  billion   with  the  French  to  refurbish  their  six  navy  ships.       It  is  also  important  to  note  that  the  French  and  Saudis  have  been  very  frustrated  with  the  US  hesitancy   to  overthrow  Bashar  Al-­‐Assad,  Iran’s  close  friend.  Indeed,  diplomacy  between  Iran  and  the  US  means  a   kind  of  victory  for  Iran.       Dibyesh:   Partly  I  would  not  buy  into  the  idea  about  the  lucrative  Iranian  market,  because  if  the  Iranian  market   does  open  up  and  this  is  a  big  if,  then  given  what  the  US  has  followed  elsewhere,  it  would  benefit   everyone,  and  the  country  that  is  most  likely  to  benefit  the  most  would  be  China  because  they  are  quite   good  at  capturing  markets.  But  with  Saudis  supporting  what  Farhang  is  saying,  who  knows  what  goes  on   behind  the  deal?  It  could  be  good  cop  bad  cop,  the  new  story  is  that  the  French  and  the  Americans  had   signed  and  it  was  the  Iranians  who  backed  out  of  the  deal.  This  might  be  to  support  the  regime  in  Iran  to   say  to  its  hardliners  that  ‘look  we  are  trying  to  resist’,  so  all  of  this  is  possible.  But  given  the  French   conduct  of  foreign  policy,  it  could  be  that  the  French  are  looking  for  new  allies  in  the  region,  particularly   Saudi  Arabia.  If  the  Israelis  are  assured  that  Iran  doesn’t  have  nuclear  weapons,  the  Israelis  will  benefit   but  Saudis  wont  benefit  as  it  has  a  deeper  problem  with  Iran.  So  the  only  country  that  will  be  steadfast   in  its  opposition  to  Iran  will  be  Saudi  Arabia.  One  of  the  ways  that  Saudi  Arabia  can  apply  pressure  on   the  deal  is  by  working  with  Israel.  But  they  can’t  rely  on  them  much  as  the  US  can  possibly  assure  Israel   that  it  will  stay  quiet  on  Palestine  in  exchange  for  support.  The  second  way  of  applying  pressure  is   through  arms  buying  and  Saudi  Arabia  is  one  of  the  largest  buyers  of  arms;  right  now  the  Saudis  buy   most  of  their  weapons  from  the  Americans,  so  they  might  play  games  by  saying  that  they  will  buy  French   arms  and  not  American  in  order  to  put  pressure  on  American  law  makers  who  live  in  states  that  produce   a  lot  of  weapons.  There  was  a  story  of  a  particular  diplomat  leaking  stories  on  how  Saudis  are  worried   about  the  deal  and  it  turned  out  that  the  particular  diplomat  was  French.  And  the  French  have  had  an   autonomous  foreign  policy  unlike  the  British.  So  they  might  be  doing  this  for  a  larger  arms  deal  with   Saudi  Arabia.         How  do  you  think  Saudi  Arabia  and  Israel  will  affect  the  negotiations?   Farhang:   I  think  5  +1  should  not  be  treated  in  the  same  way,  they  all  have  different  interests  even  though  they   had  agreement  to  impose  and  follow  the  US  led  sanctions  on  Iran.  The  differences  between  the  5+1  will  


be  revealed  more  as  time  progresses.  I  think  what’s  happening  however  is  that  the  negotiations  have   opened  up  the  whole  space  and  the  differences  are  arising  as  a  result.  Indeed,  this  demonstrates  how   two  arch  enemies  in  the  Middle  East,  Saudi  Arabia  and  Israel,  are  now  working  hard  to  ensure  that  there   would  be  no  positive  outcomes  from  the  negotiations.  Saudi  Arabia  has  been  against  any  deal  between   Iran  and  the  US  for  the  last  30  years,  ever  since  the  revolution.  A  good  example  of  this  is  in  1985  when   Robert  McFarlane,  National  Security  Adviser,  to  Ronald  Reagan,  was  involved  in  negotiating  a  deal  to   supply  arms  to  Iran.    Saudi  Arabia  was  the  first  country  to  be  furious  at  what  would  happen  if  America   expanded  their  relationship  with  Iran.    The  situation  has  not  changed  since  then  because  they  don’t   want  to  see  their  competitor  to  be  the  main  player  in  the  region.  What  has  changed  since  then  is  that   Iran's  influence  in  Iraq,  Syria  and  Lebanon  has  increased  since  the  end  of  the  Iran-­‐Iraq  war  in  1988.  So  it   does  put  Iran  in  a  different  light.       Dibyesh:   In  terms  of  Israel,  I  think  they  face  a  lot  of  challenges;  it  is  a  deeply  paranoid  state  that  has  had  an   existential  crisis  from  day  one.  If  you  look  at  Israeli  foreign  policy,  it  is  in  the  interests  of  Israel  for  the  US   and  Iran  to  have  a  good  relationship  as  it  would  normalise  Iran  and  reduce  the  threat  to  Israel.  Yet,  if  we   look  at  how  Israel  acts,  it  thrives  on  being  paranoid  and  being  under  threat  as  that  is  the  only  way  that  it   can  ensure  that  it  will  receive  unqualified  support  from  the  US.  In  a  certain  sense  we  can  see  a   contradiction  between  Israeli  interests,  which  should  be  the  normalisation  of  relations  with  Iran,  and   their  actions,  where  they  want  to  live  in  a  situation  in  which  they  are  always  under  threat.  So  this  is  the   dilemma  that  the  Jewish  state  faces.  So  from  the  very  beginning  it  was  under  attack  from  its  neighbours   and  yet  it  was  able  to  defeat  them  all  the  time  and  now  most  of  them  don’t  bother  with  them  in   substantive  terms.  They  don’t  recognise  them  as  a  state.  But  it  seems  like  it  wants  confrontations  to   justify  its  military  actions  and  its  own  crackdown  on  Palestinians  all  the  time.  So  that’s  one  part.  Now   Israelis  have  been  constantly  been  opposing  any  deals  with  Iran  as  they  do  not  trust  them.    I  mean,  if  the   Israelis  can’t  trust  Iran  and  they  can’t  be  persuaded  to  trust  Iran  by  the  US,  it  could  mean  that  either  the   Americans  are  fools,  which  is  what  the  Israelis  are  saying,  or  that  the  Israelis  are  self-­‐harming  and  want   this  conflict.  But  it’s  unlikely  that  it’s  either  of  these  two,  it’s  more  possible  that  they  want  the  conflict   because  they  want  to  remain  at  a  high  military  level  and  therefore  justify  arms  deals  that  it  gets  from   the  US.  But  I  still  believe  that  if  the  Iranians  were  clever,  they  could  have  sought  to  send  soft  messages   to  Israel,  because  in  the  end  Israel  could  manage  a  normal  relationship  with  Iran.  The  problem  is  Saudi   Arabia,  because  out  of  all  the  regimes  in  the  region,  they  are  the  most  problematic  one.  They  have  no   strong  support  base  unlike  Israel  has:  remember  that  Israel  is  a  democracy,  a  flawed  democracy  but  it  is   still  a  democracy.  Now  the  Saudis  have  survived  in  the  past  due  to  oil  but  that  will  not  last  forever,   therefore  they  want  to  remain  strategically  important  in  geopolitical  terms.  Now  if  the  US  moves   towards  Asia,  which  it  is  going  to  do,  then  the  Saudis  realise  that  they  would  be  in  a  more  vulnerable   position.  A  few  years  ago  it  was  revealed  through  WikiLeaks  that  Saudi  Arabia  would  allow  Israel  to   bomb  Iran  using  Saudi  airspace.  So  even  when  the  Israelis  are  not  ready  to  act,  the  Saudis  are   encouraging  them  to  do  so.  So  why  is  Saudi  Arabia  so  paranoid  with  Iran?  It  is  to  do  with  sectarianism:   their  regime  is  based  on  protecting  the  holy  places  of  Islam  yet  the  regime  itself  is  anti-­‐Islamic,  it’s  


Islamic  but  as  it  is  a  monarchy  of  a  certain  kind  it  is  anti-­‐Islamic.  Now  the  only  way  of  justifying  their   position  is  by  portraying  themselves  as  defenders  of  Islam  but  the  only  version  of  Islam  they  can  think  of   is  one  that  preaches  hatred  and  they  manage  to  do  this  by  sponsoring  various  movements  around  the   world.  They  have  portrayed  themselves  as  more  Islamic  after  the  Iranian  revolution  that    gave  a  lot  of   hope  to  Sunni  Arabs  that  you  can  have  a  regime  that’s  Islamic  but  also  anti-­‐imperialist.  So  the  Saudis  are   worried  about  this,  that  somehow  the  relationship  between  Iran  and  the  US  normalises  and  if  Iran   normalises  then  Saudi  Arabia  will  be  exposed  as  a  monarchy  that  doesn’t  offer  any  rights  to  anyone  and   a  monarchy  that’s  practically  useless  except  for  itself.     Farhang:   As  I  mentioned  before,  Saudi  Arabia  are  anxious  about  the  implications  of  the  negotiations  on  the   balance  of  power  in  the  region  and  their  role.  Just  like  the  Arab  Spring,  the  political  change  in  one  place   can  have  a  domino  effect  on  others.  The  Iranian  regime  are  also  aware  of  this  fact  and  they  have  faced   political  challenges  internally  because  of  this;  they  all  want  to  have  a  deal,  but  what  type  of  deal  do  they   want,  they  have  differences.  These  differences  are  not  in  isolation  from  the  region.  The  normalisation  of   relationships  between  Iran  and  the  US  would  have  domestic  political  implications.  This  would  open  up   the  space  for  different  political  forces  in  the  country  that  potentially  could  lead  to  increasing  confidence   and  expectation  of  the  Iranian  people  to  fight  for  their  democratic  rights  that  have  been  undermined  by   the  Islamic  Republic.       Dibyesh:   Iran  with  all  its  flaws  is  still  democratic;  you  have  at  least  elections  of  some  kind.  Israel  with  all  its  flaws   is  democratic,  so  is  Turkey,  whilst  the  region  that  is  the  most  undemocratic  is  Saudi  Arabia  and  they  so   far  have  been  the  main  ally  of  the  US.  And  they  are  the  most  worried,  because  if  there  is  more   normalisation  it  would  lead  to  more  democrisation  in  the  region  which  will  threaten  gulf  monarchies.   Therefore  they  want  the  status  quo  of  Iran  and  the  US  being  enemies.                And  one  more  thing  that  adds  to  the  uncertainty  to  the  gulf  monarchies  is  that,  unlike  Iran  and  Israel,   the  prosperity  of  the  gulf  monarchies  is  based  on  a  perishable  commodity,  and  that  prosperity  is  based   on  tens  of  millions  of  workers  from  other  countries  coming  in  and  working.  Iran  has  a  population  that   works  but  the  gulf  monarchies  don’t  have  a  population  that  works.  They  are  very  much  based  on  a  very   racialised  and  racist  kind  of  work  pattern  and  we  see  from  recent  news,  for  example  yesterday  (11th   November  2013)  migrant  workers  were  protesting  and  fighting  in  Saudi  Arabia.  So  they  are  very  worried   because  they  don’t  have  a  durable  time,  so  the  only  way  to  survive  for  them  is  for  conflict  to  survive   there  and  for  a  superpower  like  the  US  not  to  withdraw  from  there.    


Kurosh  Amini  is  an  MA  student  at  the  University  of  Westminster  studying  International  Relations  and   Security    


Iran Nuclear Deal: Interview with Dr Farhang Morady and Dr Dibyesh Anand