High stakes at the 5+1 Iran talks: The threat of a ‘big war’ that
could involve Russia
By Sheda Vasseghi
Tuesday, April 17, 2012 Washington 11:12 AM EST
On April 14, 2012, representatives from the U.S., Britain, France,
Russia, China and Germany (“5+1”) met with officials from the
Islamic Republic of Iran in Istanbul to discuss its nuclear
ambitions. Discussions were preliminary and introductory, and
expectations for the parties to come to any agreement were low.
According to UK representative Baroness Catherine Ashton, the
conference was useful and productive. Mr. Saed Jalili, the chief
negotiator from the Islamic Republic, stated that the discussions
were “based on cooperation” and they were “very successful.” Mr.
Jalili opined that if discussions continue along this path, “there
will be more success in the future.”
IIn this meeting, Mr. Jalili met with the Russian, Chinese, and the
U.S. representatives, separately. A meeting between Mr. Jalili, an
Islamic Republic official, and Ms. Wendy Sherman, the Under
Secretary of State for political affairs and a close advisor to U.S.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was unprecedented since in the
past meetings, the Islamic Republic officials have refused to meet
with the Americans, not even to shake hands. Given both sides have
agreed to resume talks on May 23rd in Baghdad, the significance of
the conference is now in the forefront. It has set the stage for
more serious negotiations and a real diplomatic chess game.
Members of the Chinese delegation arrive at the Consulate of Iran in Istanbul on
April 13. / Bulent Kilic / AFP
Against this backdrop, we conducted an interview with Dr. Assad
Homayoun, former Minister of the Iranian embassy in Washington and
the current president of the Azadegan Foundation, on his views
regarding the latest developments:
Dr. Homayoun, are you optimistic about the results of the
conference, and whether the two sides will reach a feasible
I am neither optimistic nor pessimistic. I’m indeed realistic. The
reality is that both the U.S. and the Islamic Republic have
concluded they have to come to some sort of a compromise.
On the one hand, Ayatollah Khamenei is feeling the pressure of
sanctions making a bad economy in Iran more dismal, on the other
hand, he notes the unhappiness of majority of the Iranian people,
who have announced their lack of support for the regime and their
readiness to explode. Khamenei thinks if there is no compromise,
there is a possibility of war. Further, Ahmadinejad is not as
arrogant and pompous as before since his position has weakened
giving Khamenei more security in having some meaningful discussions
with the 5+1. Ahmadinejad is a lame duck president. He is not acting
as loose cannon anymore and talking about the Holocaust although he
has done his damage. If Ahmadinejad revolts against the
establishment or goes against Khamenei, he can be impeached by a
parliament that is for the most part supportive of Khamenei.
Further, a former president and an influential reformist in support
of the theocracy in Iran, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who was isolated
for a while and ignored is now on Khamenei’s side again. Rafsanjani,
as a reformist, has always been in favor of compromise with the U.S.
and the West seeing it as the best solution for the clerics to
remain in control of the country.
The regime in Tehran is willing to open negotiations to insure its
survival. The regime knows majority of Iranians hate it, the economy
is very bad especially with the latest sanctions, and as such, the
clerics want to remain in power.
Do you believe Khamenei is in a realistic position to reach some
sort of an agreement with the West?
Well, Khamenei has two impediments. One is his psychological
profile. He is a revolutionary, and as such, compromise is not in
his nature. The other involves the control of the Revolutionary
Guards. That is, Khamenei has to get the consent of the Guards, who
are completely in control of the nuclear program and everything
else. Khamenei has been able to maintain the top position in the
country with their blessing. If the Guards are not ready to give up
their advancement in nuclear program, one has to see for how long
they can resist pressure from U.S. and Israel.
Why would the Obama Administration choose to go back to the
negotiation table with the anti-American regime in Iran?
President Barack Obama is against another war. It is a presidential
election year, he wants to be re-elected, and he needs to have
compromise with the Islamic Republic clergy in power at the same
time. His foreign policies have so far been unsuccessful. With the
economic situation in the U.S. not being so good as well as
Europe’s, another confrontation in the Middle East would bring the
oil price to $200+ which would be disastrous for the global economy.
This outcome would seriously threaten Obama’s re-election plans.
Obama too faces an impediment in compromising with the clerics in
Tehran. First, he doesn’t want to be branded as a weak president,
because if he gives concessions to them, the Republicans will think
he is weak.
Second, he is also under pressure by the “hawks” in Congress as well
as the powerful Israeli lobby, pressure from Israeli Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu, and neo-conservatives in the U.S.
What are your thoughts on Israel’s reaction to the latest rounds of
talks between the 5+1 and the Islamic Republic?
Now in the upcoming Baghdad conference on May 23rd, both sides will
discuss not only the Islamic Republic’s nuclear plans, but the
entire regional affairs of the Middle East including the Persian
Gulf, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. It will be long and tiresome
According to Haaretz, on April 15th, Netanyahu severely criticized
the recent Istanbul meeting. Netanyahu repeated his positions on the
need for the Islamic Republic to stop all uranium enrichments
immediately, to take enrichment material of 20% out of the country,
and to dismantle the nuclear facility in Fordo. Further Netanyahu
demanded a full inspection of Iranian atomic installation
These demands by Netanyahu go beyond the policy of the theocratic
regime in Tehran. Netanyahu’s demands interfere with Iran’s national
pride. As you know, I’m against the dictatorship of the clergy,
their mismanagement of the nation’s economy, and their 33 years of
gross violations of human rights to all minorities including women,
Kurds, Balouchis, Khuzistanis, and religious factions.
I have always been in favor of replacing the current theocratic
regime in Tehran with a national, secular democracy. But the
conditions demanded by Netanyahu are collectively against the
Iranian pride and place in history. Iran is a country with more than
3000 years of recorded history. It has been and continues to be an
important country with respect to its geopolitical position in the
Iran’s enrichment of uranium is a right given to Iran according to
the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Dismantlement of the Fordo
installation is not going to be acceptable to the Iranian people.
Iran cannot be treated as a pariah state given the country’s
historical role and its astute and very talented people. For
example, in the use of computer technology, Iranians rank #4 in the
world. The Iranian people are very informed about world politics,
have expressed their desire to be part of the Free World, and cannot
tolerate meddling of foreign powers in their domestic policies.
Dr. Homayoun, what are your concluding remarks with respect to the
May 23rd Baghdad meeting?
The two sides are headed for a second round of discussions to
Baghdad on May 23rd. How they can manage to compromise nobody knows,
but the threat of war is real. In this situation, the Russians are
very sensitive. For example, the head of the Russian Security
Council, Mr. Viktor Ozerov, recently said that Russia is prepared
for an action plan in the event of war on Iran. What action plans?
Nobody knows, but Russian diplomat Mr. Dimitri Rogozin also said
that if Russia engages in any action, it will involve their national
security. For this reason, there is a report that the Russians have
strengthened their air base in Gyumri, Armenia. We have to take the
Russian factor seriously especially when Mr. Vladimir Putin resumes
his presidency with a new energy on May 7th.
Regardless of the reported optimism, the gap between the 5+1 and
Islamic Republic parties is wide. They differ in many areas. How
they can come to terms and make peace or compromise is uncertain.
That is why I’m realistic and, according to a famous Iranian poet
Malek o-Sho’ara Bahar (1884-1951), I hope the owl of war will not
It should be noted that military expert Les Gelb said this year
Obama has three disasters: the Islamic Republic, Syria, and North
Korea — all with bad regimes. To me, the most important is the
Islamic Republic and its nuclear issue, so Obama does not want to
initiate war. His focus is on improving the U.S. economy and his
re-election, and not to be viewed as a weak president especially by
the Republican opposition party. The stakes for both the U.S. and
the Islamic Republic is very high, and a failure is a catastrophe
which will catapult the entire Middle East into a big war with the
potential use of nuclear weapons.
Sheda Vasseghi is on the Board of Azadegan Foundation, and is a
regular contributor to Freepressers.com and WorldTribune.com on
Iran’s affairs. Join The Official Site of Sheda Vasseghi on
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