Tag Archives: P5+1

Iran Nuclear Talks in Istanbul: Greatest Beneficiary is Turkish Tourism

By BARIN KAYAOĞLU

January 25, 2011

The city of Istanbul needs no detailed introduction: It served as capital to the Roman, Eastern Roman, and Ottoman empires for nearly 2,000 yearsand it is the only city to span two continents. Nevertheless, I’m grateful to the P5+1 group and the Iranian government for their choice of Istanbul as host for the nuclear talks and the publicity that the city received. It will be good for tourism.

But the latest round of talks achieved little other than helping Istanbul’s publicity and an agreement to meet again soon. The talks between Iran and the P5+1 (the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany) went nowhere this time for the same reason that they went nowhere before: The two sides keep insisting on the same things. Thanks (!) to UN Security Council resolutions (especially Res. 1929 of last summer), the international community keeps pushing Iran to suspend uranium enrichment to have the sanctions lifted. The Iranians tell the world that they would never discuss their right to enrich uranium and add that, for the negotiations to move forward, the sanctions have to be lifted first. It reminds me of the following sketch by the Turkish cartoonist Erdil Yaşaroğlu:

Elephant: "Don't bite!" --- Alligator: "Don't blow!"

Although reports indicate that the Iranian government is no longer interested in a fuel swap, exchanging Iran’s enriched uranium for ready-to-use fuel rods is still a good idea. This can be done in several ways: The Iranians and the IAEA can exchange “the goods” at a neutral location (say, Dubai) at regular intervals. Similarly, a constant chain to maintain an outflow of raw uranium and inflow of nuclear fuel can be established. Under this plan, Iran’s enriched uranium would get stored in a third location (most likely Turkey) while France and/or Russia would provide Iran with the fuel rods. In turn, Iran would turn over the spent fuel to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in order to avoid re-usage (spent uranium can be reprocessed to produce plutonium, also a bomb material).

Once the two sides gain some trust for each other, the United Nations Security Council can lift some of the sanctions against Iran. In return, Tehran can agree to open all of its nuclear facilities to IAEA inspections. If the IAEA confirms that the Iranian nuclear program is “clean” (i.e., no bombs), the rest of the sanctions can be lifted.

And since the international community is so concerned about Iran’s nuclear program and the future of nuclear proliferation, it would be wise to lead by example. To that end, the United States and Russia, which have just re-established a nuclear arms reduction regime with “New START,” should push other nuclear-weapon states to reduce their nuclear stockpiles as well. It’s time to expand nuclear arms reduction to Britain, France, and China while putting pressure on Israel, Pakistan, India, and North Korea to abandon their nukes.

Do I sound too unrealistic? Maybe that’s because I’m more transfixed by Istanbul’s beauty than I’m frustrated by the slow pace of multilateral diplomacy.

Come visit Istanbul.

Barın Kayaoğlu is a Ph.D. candidate in history at The University of Virginia. He welcomes all comments, questions, and exchanges. To contact him, click here.

You can also follow him on Twitter (@barinkayaoglu) and Facebook (BarınKayaoğlu.com).

Share

Dear Tehran, Washington, and P5+1: I Know You’re Reading My Blog, So Please Pay Attention

By BARIN KAYAOĞLU

January 9, 2011

It’s flattering to see that the parties to the Iran nuclear talks are reading my blog.

In one of my recent posts, I had argued that the most important problem between Iran and the international community was the mutual lack of trust. I had suggested that, in order to overcome the troubled state of relations between Iran and the outside world – especially the United States – the two sides had to understand the historical and psychological underpinnings of their suspicions. As such, in order to build trust between the two, I had advised the Iranians to open all their nuclear installations and had urged the P5+1 group to lift the sanctions and streamline Iran’s application to become a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) once its nuclear program was in the clear.

Last week, reports came in that Tehran has invited diplomats from the P5+1 group (except the United States), as well as Turkey, to visit certain sites in Iran and see for themselves whether they are building The Bomb. Unfortunately, the EU countries of the P5+1 group – France, Britain, and Germany – rejected Iran’s offer because it did not include all nuclear facilities and because only diplomats were invited. Both points were quite valid.

Now, as much as I appreciate the two sides reading what I say, they ought to do more.

As per my original proposal, Iran should state its willingness to open all of its nuclear installations – power plants, research reactors, and enrichment centers – if the P5+1 group pledges to lift all sanctions on Iran once IAEA experts (that is, nuclear physicists, chemical experts, engineers, and not diplomats) can confirm that the Iranians are not producing nuclear weapons. The revelation of undeclared nuclear facilities – a uranium enrichment plant in Natanz in 2003 and another one at a military base near Qom in 2009 – has cast significant doubts in diplomatic circles over Iran’s true intentions. Visits to such sites can be meaningful only if carried out by scientists, who know what to look for, rather than diplomats, who don’t.

Another fact that we need to recognize is how a majority of Iran’s current problems spring from its troubled relations with the United States. Most of Washington’s Middle East headaches have a lot to do with its problematic relations with Tehran as well. For 32 years, the two sides have tried to undermine each other through groups such as HAMAS, Hezbollah, the Shia militia in Iraq, PJAK, and the MKO. In the end, the United States and Iran have gained very little by saber-rattling through these proxies.

Thus, in parallel with the Iran-P5+1 negotiations, Americans and Iranians need to start meeting directly and regularly in order to resolve their differences and re-establish diplomatic ties – perhaps preceded by confidence-building measures in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. At any rate, America and Iran can only address problems borne out of the U.S. presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, Iran’s support for HAMAS and Hezbollah, Iran’s vicious rhetoric against Israel, and a host of other problems if they’re in the same room and if they have functioning embassies in their capitals. The Bush administration had snubbed such an Iranian overture in 2003. It would be foolish for the administrations in the U.S. and Iran to repeat that mistake.

And if the two governments are uncertain about how they can go about doing that, they can just ask me. I’d be glad to help.

Barın Kayaoğlu is a Ph.D. candidate in history at The University of Virginia. He welcomes all comments, questions, and exchanges. To contact him, click here.

You can also follow him on Twitter (@barinkayaoglu) and Facebook (BarınKayaoğlu.com).

Share

The Crazy (and Naïve) Oracle: Some Wishful Thinking for 2011

By BARIN KAYAOĞLU

January 7, 2011

A favorite story that I like to tell my students goes as follows:

One day in 1928, friends of the smartest man in Munich asked him to predict the city’s future. “In 1933,” the man starts, “the city, like the rest of the country, is run by the thugs who had tried to carry out a coup five years ago.” His friends are not impressed. “But ten years later,” the man continues optimistically, “Munich will be the leading cultural and commercial center of the German Empire stretching from the North Pole to North Africa.” Joyful, his friends ask him to say more. “Five years later, however, Munich, together with the rest of Germany, will lie in ruins.” The comment displeases his audience.

“Oh, don’t look so depressed,” the man goes on, “by 1953, we would have rebuilt Munich with American aid, and, by 1963, more than half of Munich residents will be so well-off that they’ll own boxes that show movies and pictures like in the cinemas.” His friends, bewildered, then hear the most shocking bit: “Look, we’ll end up having so many jobs in Munich by 1963 that we’ll have to bring in hundreds of thousands of workers from other countries to maintain our prosperity.”

The man’s friends, of course, lock him up in a lunatic asylum, even though events would prove him correct.

In the same spirit as the crazy wise man, here are my predictions for 2011:

–          The international community finally understands the nature of the insurgency in Afghanistan and Pakistan and shifts its attention to rebuilding the two countries’ socioeconomic infrastructure with long-term project and not “quick impact” ideasthat are of little use. Building schools, hospitals, dams and roads seems to cost a lot less than guns and bullets.

–          Realizing that its own well-being can only go hand-in-hand with its neighbors’ security, the Pakistani government shows greater resolve to curtail insurgent activity on the Afghan border. The security situation in both countries shows marked improvement.

–          The Iranian government and the P5+1 group start making real progress on the nuclear question. Iran grants the IAEA full access to all of its nuclear facilities; the UN Security Council begins lifting the sanctions. American and Iranian diplomats lay the groundwork for a direct meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi. Re-establishing diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Iran seems on the horizon.

–          Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finally ends the coalition with the far-right Avigdor Lieberman and forms a new coalition with the centrist Kadima. Netanyahu’s move convinces Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas to restart direct talks. Both parties show unprecedented flexibility with respect to sensitive issues: Jerusalem, Israeli settlements, and the return of Palestinian refugees. Progress with the Palestinians encourages the Israeli government to renew peace talks with Syria.

–          The last U.S. forces withdraw from Iraq as scheduled. With American forces out, the Obama administration can allocate more resources for economic recovery and reduces the federal deficit. The U.S. economy finally starts to improve, followed by the rest of the world. Republicans and Democrats in Congress begin to address some of America’s most pressing problems, much to everyone’s surprise.

–          In Turkey, the PKK declares a permanent ceasefire against Turkey and agrees to turn over its arms to the United Nations. In turn, the AKP government, with support from CHP, passes a law giving full amnesty to the organization’s rank-and-file and conditional amnesty to high-ranking officials in Northern Iraq. With the violence coming to an end in Southeast Turkey, democratic standards improve and the region’s economy begins to boom.

–          North and South Korea tone down their rhetoric and mutually suspend all military exercises. The North Korean leadership, aware of their country’s despondent situation, begins talks with its southern brothers to end the country’s now-58-year-old division.

(Other actual and potential conflict zones can be added to this list with similar “predictions”: Bosnia-Herzegovina; China-Taiwan; Congo; the Ivory Coast; Kosovo; Northern Mexico; Sudan.)

Do such predictions make me sound crazy? Of course they do.

But if you’re going to lock me up like the man from Munich, bear in mind that if a good deal of these prophecies do not work out, not many of us will survive to tell me that I was wrong.

Barın Kayaoğlu is a Ph.D. candidate in history at The University of Virginia. He welcomes all comments, questions, and exchanges. To contact him, click here.

You can also follow him on Twitter (@barinkayaoglu) and Facebook (BarınKayaoğlu.com). 

Share

Beyond Nukes: Building Trust Between Iran and the World

By BARIN KAYAOĞLU

December 13, 2010

Last week’s talks in Geneva between the Iranian government and the P5+1 group produced little more than an agreement to meet in Istanbul next month.

The negotiations between Iran and P5+1 (United States, Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany) is pacing this slowly because Iran’s nuclear program is not the real problem; at least, it is not the biggest problem between Iran and the rest of the world.

The Iranian nuclear program is not the problem, because, as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reiterated last week, her country recognizes Iran’s right to peaceful nuclear energy. The Iranians, for their part, have explained repeatedly that their nuclear program has peaceful purposes only. But that is not easing the international community’s concerns that Iran may be producing something other than electricity.

The Iranian nuclear standoff cannot be resolved without understanding this plain and simple fact: the mutual distrust between Iran and the outside world – especially the United States – is the major cause of the deadlock.

Problems between Iran and the rest include (but are not limited to): Iranian support for HAMAS and Hezbollah; U.S. support for MKO and PJAK (groups designated by the State Department as “terrorist organizations”); Iran’s harsh rhetoric against Israel and the United States; U.S. presence in Iraq and Afghanistan; U.S. influence over the Persian Gulf monarchies; and the recent assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist in Tehran.

There’s a fairly long history to the lack of trust: Iranians have not forgotten the joint British-Russian occupation of their country in the two world wars. The CIA and MI6-sponsored coup against Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddeq in 1953 is remembered more vividly. Iranians also recall the dictatorial rule of the Shah and believe – mistakenly – that his reign lasted until the Revolution in 1979 only because the West supported him.

Of course, Americans and other foreigners have their share of bad memories. The storming of the U.S. embassy in Tehran in November 1979 and the traumatic captivity of American diplomats at the hands of militant Iranian students for 444 days has not receded into memory.

For their part, Iranians believe, with some justification, that the United States had encouraged Saddam Hussein to start the Iran-Iraq War in September 1980 to punish Tehran for the hostage crisis. Add to that how Western countries had lavished the Iraqi dictator with advanced weaponry during the 8-year war and you get a better sense of Iranian worries.

So what can be done about the deep distrust between Iran and the world? For a start, the U.S. should stop discussing military action against Iran as if it is inevitable. Even uttering the phrase “all options are on the table” is against the logic of talking. It would only convince the Iranian leadership that speedy development of nuclear weapons – the outcome that the nuclear talks are supposed to avert – is the only way to defend themselves. In order to build trust, Western governments – especially the Obama administration – should use a softer tone.

Western countries should also understand that, despite its oil riches, Iran is not a rich country (which may be a more subtle cause for its sense of insecurity). Even before the latest round of punitive sanctions, the Iranian economy had a performance problem. Official inflation and unemployment rates are said to be 10% and 14.6% respectively but the actual figures are probably higher. Furthermore, more than a quarter of Iran’s population is below the age of 15. Iran can only provide jobs for its growing population if it can attract more foreign investment and increase its non-oil trade with the rest of the world, which can only happen if joins the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Thus, aside from using a softer tone, the United States and other Western countries should convince Iran that, if the nuclear talks produce positive and tangible results, they will hasten Iran’s application to become a WTO member.

In order to build trust, the Iranians have an important duty as well. The revelation of undeclared Iranian nuclear facilities – a uranium enrichment plant in Natanz in 2003 and another one at a military base near Qom in 2009 – have cast significant doubts in diplomatic circles over Iran’s true intentions.

To put an end to that problem, Tehran should offer to submit the list of all of its nuclear facilities (finished and unfinished) to the P5+1 group in order to demonstrate its sincerity. A mission by the United Nations can verify that no additional nuclear sites exist in Iran, which would help to develop confidence between the two sides.

With a modicum of trust, the nuclear talks between Iran and the P5+1 group can yield better results and serve as a stepping stone for Iran’s integration with the international community.

Barın Kayaoğlu is a Ph.D. candidate in history at The University of Virginia. He welcomes all comments, questions, and exchanges. To contact him, click here.

You can also follow him on Twitter (@barinkayaoglu) and Facebook (BarınKayaoğlu.com).

Share