A Middle Way: The Best Solution to the Nuclear Crisis


Explaining about a draft agreement on nuclear fuel for the Tehran research reactor, Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs Manouchehr Mottaki noted: “The two sides decided to review the draft.  It is being reviewed in Vienna, and Iran will soon declare its viewpoint.”  However, some officials have already voiced their opposition to the recent nuclear agreement.

The main point evident in all those voices of opposition is lack of trust.  Iran still distrusts the West and believes that Western countries are trying to deprive it of its right to enrich uranium in the long run.  Therefore, Tehran insists that it should take a multilateral strategic approach to this issue.

In fact, they say, it is part of a US strategy to take all enriched uranium away from Iran and then, in the next phase, to expect more from Tehran.  It seems that their main concern is that, at the end of this stage of negotiations, the West’s expectations will grow, which may finally bring the enrichment process, which has been a fundamental foreign policy of Iran, to a complete halt.  This would cost dearly for those politicians who had insisted on enrichment in Iran, especially President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.  Therefore, if the negotiations fail to yield tangible results, it will be a headache.

The opposition heard in the Majlis (parliament) is in line with the general anxiety in Iran and the idea that negotiations with the United States are not beneficial to Iran because the United States will use its power to inflict losses on Iran in a step-by-step manner.  Therefore, they are totally suspicious of the role of the United States in its power game with Iran and maintain that Iran would be the weaker side of the game.

In the time of Bush, the game followed totally clear rules.  He tried to force other countries through bullying and unilateralism to give in to US policies and this built international consensus against him.  Obama, however, has adopted a new strategy according to which he is planning to engage in direct talks with Iran.  This does not mean that Washington sympathizes with Iran or is pursuing special relations with Tehran, but it means that the Americans have found out that negotiations constitute the sole means of convincing Iran to give up its nuclear program and that they are doing it through a step-by-step strategy.  In this process, Iranian politicians who are wary of the US role in international interactions regularly oppose negotiations.

The opposition, however, does not signify total negation of the necessity of negotiations, but it should be considered a warning to the Iranian negotiators that they must be careful not to give concessions to the opposite side.  At the same time, the role of the Majlis in nuclear issues and foreign policy decisions is positive, a sign that key problems are solved through consensual solutions.  The existence of multiple voices is very important with regard to the nuclear case because it means various levers of power in Iran will balance one another.  At the same time, it shows the foreign side that the nuclear issue is of national importance to Iranians.

Forecasting Iran’s Answer

Although it is difficult under the current circumstances to predict Iran’s response to the agreement, all signs point to a middle way, which, if chosen carefully, could be positive and in line with Iran’s national interests.  In fact, if Iran kept part of the enriched uranium in the country and sent the rest to another country, it would pave the way for the continuation of cooperation.

Iran should manage its own nuclear case at all times.  I don’t agree with the recent opposition to the latest nuclear agreement because, in any game, both sides try to benefit.  If Iran believes in a win-win game, it should take a step to manage it.

In fact, the trust-building measures requested by Western countries should be taken in Tehran at this stage.  On the other hand, Iran is distrustful of the West and expects Western countries to take their own trust-building step.  Therefore, a middle way can lead to a deal and that deal, under the current circumstances, would be to the benefit of Iran’s national interests and security.

In any case, the negotiations between Iran and the United States as well as global issues have reached a critical point, and the nuclear case is the sole issue enjoying the necessary potential to move those negotiations forward because it gives Iran a bargaining chip which forces the United States to accept to talk to Tehran.  Therefore, Iran should be careful not to sell that bargaining chip, that is, an independent nuclear fuel cycle, for a low price.

Both sides are taking steps to reach the agreed point.  Iran is on the path to positive negotiations and is trying to take a positive step to pave the way for a deal.  In the meantime, however, a middle way would be the best option to protect Iran’s national interests.

Kayhan Barzegar is a Research Fellow at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.  He is also an Assistant Professor of International Relations at Science and Research Campus, Islamic Azad University, a Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Strategic Research (CSR), and the Center for Middle East Strategic Studies in Tehran.  The original article
راه حل بینابینی؛ راهکار گذر از پیچیدگی‌ها was published in
دیپلماسی ایرانی / Iranian Diplomacy.  The English version here is based on the translation published by Iran Review.

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