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.