Beyond Geneva, the goal of a world without nukes

By Ameen Izzadeen
Two days of talks between Iran and six world powers have ended on a cautiously optimistic note in Geneva although the much talked about breakthrough still appears to be somewhat elusive.
As the P5+1 nations — the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China, all members of the United Nations Security Council, and Germany — and Iran left Geneva on Wednesday night, the European Union’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the two sides had “their most detailed talks ever”. Such optimism was absent in the previous talks involving Iran and P5+1. Riding on the optimism generated by the latest round of talks which Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif hailed as “substantive and forward-looking,” the two sides have agreed to meet on November 7 and 8.
A joint statement said the international negotiators were carefully considering an Iranian proposal to allow spot checks on Iran’s nuclear sites. But the statement gave few details about the Iranian offer.
Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi, who did much of the talking at the two-day deliberations, told the media Iran was ready to facilitate snap visits by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) monitors to its nuclear sites. He also said that Iran might also agree to keep uranium enrichment at less than 20 per cent to assure the West that the Islamic Republic would not go for any nuclear weapons.
The demands of the P5+1 include that Iran stop uranium enrichment at less than 20 per cent – a threshold that is a few steps away from weapons grade enrichment. They also want Iran to ship most of its stockpile of 20 per cent enriched uranium abroad although Iran will be allowed to keep some for its research reactors. The P5+1 also want Iran to answer questions regarding nuclear research of military nature.
Iran’s response to these demands has been that the world should recognise its right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes. It has refused to ship any of its enriched uranium abroad but called for easing of sanctions imposed by the UN, the US and the EU — sanctions which are having a crippling effect on Iran’s economy.
To what extent the two sides have compromised is still not known. But what is adding to the optimism is the fact that the talks were the first since the Iranian people elected a moderate president in Hassan Rouhani and the talks took place against the backdrop of a 15-minute surprise telephone conversation between US President Barack Obama and Rouhani on the sidelines of the recent UN General Assembly sessions. Many analysts saw the Obama-Rouhani talks, the first since the two sides broke off diplomatic relations in the wake of the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979, as groundbreaking as US President Richard Nixon’s visit to China in 1972. Prior to the telephone conversation between the two adversaries, US Secretary of State John Kerry held discussions with his Iranian counterpart Javad Zarif on the contentious issue of Iran’s nuclear programme.
Yesterday, the White House said Iran had shown a greater level of “seriousness and substance” than ever before at the talks in Geneva.
These factors apart, just before the Geneva talks began, another politically and diplomatically significant development vis-à-vis the US-Iran relations took place in Washington. Ten US Senators including John McCain and Lindsay Graham — two hawks who regularly criticise the Obama administration for its soft approach towards Iran and Syria — sent a letter to the President saying they were open to suspending the implementation of new sanctions against Iran.
The letter came amidst speculation that depending on the success of the Geneva talks, the US may move towards opening a diplomatic mission in Teheran while Iran may invite US businesses to invest in its economy.
With the US economy in crisis because of a series of factors, the latest being the shut-down of the government, Washington has been looking for ways and means to revive it. By slapping crippling sanctions on Iran, the US has dealt a serious blow to the world economy because the sanctions have sent fuel prices soaring and prevented China and developing countries from buying crude and gas from Iran at a reasonable price. The US economy stands to gain if the rest of the world economy does well. The demand for US goods will increase in the world market, only if the world economy flourishes. But the world economy has still not hit the top gear although five years have lapsed since the US financial crisis precipitated by the housing-market scam. The International Monetary Fund has predicted the growth in 2013 to average 2.9 per cent — below the 3.2 per cent recorded in 2012.
By relaxing the sanctions on Iran and finding a solution to the Syrian civil war, oil prices can be brought to levels that will stimulate growth in developing countries, especially fast developing economies such as India and Brazil.
Meanwhile, the news from Geneva has cast a gloom over Israel and Saudi Arabia.
When the talks began, Israel issued a statement warning the P5+1 not to ease the sanctions on Iran while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who regularly describes Rouhani as a wolf in sheep’s clothing told parliament that it would be “a historic mistake” to relax the pressure on Iran now.
Israel feels that a nuclear power Iran is the biggest threat to its regional power status in the Middle East. The Zionist state has prodded the United States to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities, warning if the US does not, it will. Israel will continue to cast doubts about Iran’s bona fides even if a breakthrough is achieved at the next round of the Geneva talks. Israel will urge the US and its Western allies not to be misled by Iran’s offer, saying now that Iran has reached 20 per cent level enrichment, it can achieve weapons grade uranium in quick time to be used in a time of war or tension.
On this issue, Israel has found an ally in Saudi Arabia, which, according to a leaked US embassy cable published on the WikiLeaks website, had urged the Americans to bomb and destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities. Just like Israel, Saudi Arabia also does not trust Iran. The two countries look at Iran’s latest compromise as a deception — one step backward to take two steps forward once the nuclear issue is out of the world’s focus.
One may wonder why the P5+1 nations are pushing for nuclear non-proliferation while they themselves – with the exception of Germany – are armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons which are enough to destroy the world hundred times over. Their concern for nuclear non-proliferation does not arise from any altruistic or pacific reasons. They are driven by power politics. Despite their ideological differences, the P5 members are in agreement that they must not allow any more countries to achieve nuclear weapon status and seriously undermine their global power status. If the P5 nations are genuinely interested in a nuclear weapons free world, they should disarm first and persuade other countries such as Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea to dismantle their nuclear weapons programmes.
(This article first appeared in the Daily Mirror, Sri Lanka)

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About ameenizzadeen

journalist and global justice activist
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