'No-nuclear-program ultimatum for Iran means no final deal'
On January 28, US President Barack Obama delivered his sixth State of the Union address, warning congressional lawmakers against voting in favor of tougher sanctions against Iran, just as the negotiations between Iran and the West have turned hopeful for the first time in recent memory.
RT:The bill that would impose new sanctions on Iran has reportedly stalled in the US Congress. Why did that happen?
Reza Marashi: I think that the president of the US, together with the State Department and his senior officials at the White House, has gone out and made a concerted effort to show members of Congress on the Democratic side - and to a lesser extent on the Republican side - that new sanctions right now would disruptive to the diplomatic process and it would show the international community that the problem lies primarily in Washington as opposed to Tehran. But this problem is far from over, you've only bought yourself a little bit of time and this crisis can come back to the forefront sooner rather than later.
There is no reason why they couldn't return to this kind of bill, but I also think that proponents of more sanctions on Iran - or opponents of diplomacy, as I call them - would have focused on trying to prevent a larger deal, the final deal, because the deal that was struck in Geneva was an interim deal. So they are trying to raise the cost of the final deal and make it much more difficult to reach, and that’s what the threats of new sanctions certainly do. But also than rather than introducing new sanctions now they can wait a little while because they are going to negotiate the final deal for the next couple of weeks if not months, so they are focusing on that.
RT:Now the US Congress is considering another non-binding bill that will express concerns about Iran's nuclear program. What will that bill mean if it is passed?
RM: Non-binding resolutions are dangerous because they are an effort of creating precedent or establishing facts on the ground. If they introduce a non-binding resolution that talks about the troubling nature of the Iran’s nuclear program, what that is really going to be geared towards is trying to set the confines or the construct of what the final deal looks like. We need to let the diplomats do that at a negotiating table, we can’t have congressmen and senators trying to negotiate amongst themselves a deal that Iran at the end of the day is going to have to approve if in fact we avoid a military conflict.
RT:Why has Congress been pushing for the new sanctions - basically in defiance of an international deal with Iran that promises to actually lift some of the sanctions that are already in place?
RM: I think there has been a long-standing and unproven argument not just from Congress, but especially from Congress, that sanctions have brought Iranians to the negotiation table, so more sanctions will get America a better deal. There are a lot of analysts, including myself, that dispute the notion that it was sanctions that brought Iran to the table, and we certainly dispute the notion - and the president of the US agrees with this sentiment - that more sanctions will bring the US a better deal.
What we need right now is to trade concession on our end to concessions on Iranian end. That’s how you win the peace. We don’t need to increase the cycle of escalation that brought us to the precipice of a war – that’s the worst possible thing that could happen right now.
RT:The world powers will soon start discussions about the long-term deal with Iran, and the hardliners in the US say they would like to see Iran give up all of its uranium enrichment. Do you think that the US negotiators will actually follow through with these demands? And what could Iran's reaction be?
RM: It’s hard to determine what’s going to happen at a negotiating table, because negotiators are going to be behind the closed doors. But two things are for sure: there is no possible deal where Iran accepts giving up its nuclear program. I don’t see it and nobody else sees it except for those who belong to the far, far right on the political spectrum, and those are the same kind of people that got us involved in the Iraq war, so their credibility is more or less non-existent.
Building off of that, the broader diplomatic process has every chance to succeed – the whole purpose of sitting at the negotiating table is trying things that have not been done before, to try and find solutions that weren't previously available when you've tried everything but talking. It’s going to take some time, some hard choices are going to have to be made by both sides, but the deal is certainly within reach and both sides are finally serious about finding a deal that satisfies both of their interests.
I think both publicly and privately very senior American officials have acknowledged that there is no peaceful solution to this conflict that has Iran give up his entire nuclear program. The focus of these negotiations is to figure out what Iranian nuclear program will look like in a more limited fashion under the terms of the final deal. And that’s just the Iranians, and of course there’s also the American side together with its allies in P5+1, they have to give some things to Iran as well in order to make the deal work.
But no enrichment and no nuclear program in Iran is more or less a no-starter, so people that advocate for that position are being less than honest or they are trying to intentionally sabotage the deal.
RT:A new poll suggests that the majority of Americans support the deal but actually don't believe it will stop Iran from building a nuclear weapon. Where does that mistrust come from?
RM: I think it takes back to Iranian revolution when you saw millions of Iranians protesting on the streets in part because of the destructive relationship that the US had with the Shah of Iran, and then you see the relationship get further poisoned as a result of the Iranian government occupying the American embassy and taking American diplomats and government officials hostage. From that point in time over the past three decades the relationship got increasingly toxic. And now for the first time in 34 years we are seeing some government officials on both sides making an effort to ‘unpoison the well’ and to improve the relationship between the two countries.
Mistrust is understandable, but thankfully in the first step, and even in second or the third step you don’t need trust, you need concrete and verifiable mechanisms that can be put in place that demonstrate beyond the shadow of a doubt that both sides are living up to their end of the bargain and I think the American people can take solace in the fact that this is exactly what this interim deal does.
RT:IAEA inspectors are now verifying Iran's compliance with an interim deal. What have their findings been so far?
RM: So far I think we have to say that their findings have been relatively positive, and I only say that because we haven’t heard anything negative. The track record has been that any time there’s negative news on Iran that IAEA are very quick to report, so if there was some negative news to report we would have heard it by now this process is moving in the right direction, it’s moving in a direction of attempts to find a peaceful solution to conflict.
What we need to be focusing on now is coming up with new and outside-of-the-box ways that can help support this process and make sure it solidifies and provides a foundation from which peaceful relations long into the future can be built.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.