It seems it’s déjà vu all over again.
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi told Reuters on Tuesday that it was too soon to tell if the talks made progress, but that Tehran impressed the negotiators from the P5+1 (US, France, German, China, Britain and Russia) with a PowerPoint presentation titled “Closing an unnecessary crisis, opening new horizons.”
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton’s spokesman, Michael Mann, said there was a sense of “cautious optimism.” This came after she had dinner Monday evening with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
And so another round of talks begin over the Iranian nuclear program, which is believed to be at the threshold of being able to produce a nuclear weapon.
What can we expect to occur during this round of talks that did not happen before? The sanctions are believed to be a factor in pushing Iran to the negotiating table, but is Iran in such a dire position that it will be willing to give up it prize project – its key to regional dominance and a deterrent against attack?
North Korea has been able to withstand international sanctions and pressure on the way to the bomb with a much worse economic situation than Iran. It had an estimated GDP of $40 billion in 2011, a per capita GDP of $1,800, and exports of around $4.7b.
Iran is light years ahead economically. It had an estimated 2012 GDP of $1.016 trillion, a per capita GDP of $13,300, and exports of around $65b.
Meir Javedanfar, a lecturer on Iranian politics at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, told The Jerusalem Post that he does not like the comparison with North Korea because while Iran is led by a dictatorial ruler, it is less a one-man show because Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei needs the backing of various factions, which he gets by buying their loyalty.
“The Iranian Revolutionary Guard are too used to living the good life,” said Javedanfar, adding that its members are not ready to live a poor life.
Asked if Tehran is rushing for a deal, he responded that Iran wants to reach one, but on its own terms by which it gives up something on the margins of its nuclear program in return for the lifting of sanctions.
He does not know how willing Iran will be to compromise, but he does see sanctions and economic pressures putting heavy pressure on the regime.
Trita Parsi, the president of the National Iranian American Council told the Post that the new team in Iran has repeatedly demonstrated a strong willingness to "mend fences with the West," illustrated by their efforts during negotiations in 2003, when they offered to cap enrichment at 3,000 centrifuges, and in 2005.
"They are now back into power thanks to the votes of the Iranian people, but now they only have a few months of political honeymoon to cut a deal," he said noting that their "maneuverability will evaporate in a few months due to domestic Iranian politics."
"If the West doesn't match their flexibility, this opening will be lost" and the international community will be forced to deal not with Rouhani, but with his hard line opponents, he said.
Michael Doran, a senior fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, who previously served as a US deputy assistant secretary of defense and a senior director at the National Security Council, wrote in a recent article in Politico that President Barack Obama “should specify a time limit to the negotiations.”
Doran told the Post, “I think the pressure to cut a deal, even a bad deal, will be immense, because the breaking away from the negotiations will be read either as the abject failure of Obama’s policy or as a prelude to war.”
He agrees with those that say the sanctions are causing real economic problems for Iran.
“They are serious and worsening,” he said, adding that it is difficult to gauge “how much pressure the pain of the average person puts on the elite.”
Asked whether he sees the timeframe for negotiations being limited to one year, before the US or Israel attacks, Doran responded that he does not think so, as both sides see an advantage in continuing with negotiations.
“They can string them out for a long time – as we have seen in the past. In fact, I will not be surprised if the negotiations will be interminable,” he said, predicting the possibility of “a series of temporary agreements, with, say, six-month time limits, billed as confidence- building measures.”
Prof. Ze’ev Maghen, an expert on Iran, head of the department of Middle East Studies at Bar-Ilan University and a researcher at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, who also lectures at Shalem College, told the Post that Tehran is not rushing to a deal.
“They are playing the same game they always do, taking advantage of the West’s incredibly deep-seeded need to believe: First they fire off a whiff of what sounds vaguely – and only to the completely untrained ear – like moderation, then, after the unbelievably gullible international community gets all excited, they begin back-tracking, rephrasing, imperceptibly – or even perceptibly – changing their tune, which isn’t that hard, because they never really offered anything substantial in any definitive fashion in the first place,” said Maghen.
The West falls for the same negotiating ploy every time, he said. “It truly boggles the mind.”
In a lecture at a conference held by the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies last week at Bar-Ilan University, Maghen implied that cultural differences give Iran the advantage in negotiations.
“Iran knows that in the West people say what they think, while in the Middle East, they say the opposite,” he said. “The US has no chance with the Iranians, once they start talking they have already lost.”
And speaking to the Post he asked, even if Iran does rush for a deal, “What kind of deal do you think you are getting? Remember the most recent ‘deal’ that Bashar Assad ‘rushed’ into?” Maghen said that the deal saw Assad forking over all of his chemical weapons for destruction – how do they know that he has revealed to them all the stockpiles? They have Bashar’s word, and Putin’s!
“That is the kind of deal that the West will be able to broker with Iran, if at all, and if I were [President Hassan] Rouhani or Khamenei, I would ‘rush’ to it as fast as my legs could carry me,” Maghen said.