(Persia Digest) - The US secretary of State has announced the launch of the JCPOA modification task force by three European countries, while Iran and Europe have not confirmed the news. However, news of European efforts to launch talks with Iran on its missile program and regional issues has been announced. Iran has said it will never hold negotiations on the missile program, but it is always ready for negotiations on regional issues, as the Iranian President stressed on Tuesday at a news conference. “The US and its European allies must ensure the success of the nuclear deal before asking for talks on other issues”, Iran’s Political Deputy at the Foreign Ministry, Abbas Araghchi, also told Reuters on the sidelines of the Euromoney Conference.
The Persia Digest reporter has interviewed Shireen Hunter about recent developments in the nuclear deal and asked about her personal comments. Shireen Hunter is a professor and researcher at the Center for Islamic-Christian Studies at Georgetown University and she has published many books and articles on Iranian issues. This is the second and final part of the interview.
Some experts believe that, with Libya's experience, the United States intends to provide grounds for a military strike against Iran by reducing its missile and defensive capabilities through negotiations on the missile program. News about the deployment of the US missile defense shield in Qatar is also being analyzed in the same vein. So why should Iran negotiate its missile program?
I'm not saying Iran should negotiate only the missile program. Although it is unclear whether the United States is willing to negotiate with Iran, given the presence of Trump at the White House. However, in my opinion, between Iran and the United States, negotiations should be conducted on all issues that are in dispute, so that Iran can voice its complaints and explain its position within the framework of these negotiations. The problem is that there has never been a right timetable between Iran and the United States’ willingness to negotiate. For example, before the first Gulf War in the early 90's, the United States was willing to make many concessions, but Iran refused to negotiate. Of course, the US goal was for Iran to join the anti-Saddam alliance. Later, Iran took steps to negotiate, unfortunately, however, conditions had changed in Washington, and the United States did not respond to the positive actions of Iran. However, there was also some opposition in Iran. Iran also took some steps in 2003 that the Republican Party and President George W. Bush refused to join in at the time. Of course, I am not saying that negotiations will solve all the problems. If Trump is determined to eliminate the whole defense, economic, and industrial base of Iran, even if Iran makes any negotiations in this situation and changes its range of missiles, it will not be useful. Therefore, the goal should be to increase the scope of talks by entering the missile negotiations, and in this case Europe can also help.
The question is, what is the guarantee that if Iran accepts these negotiations, then the United States will not take steps to restrict Iran?
This is completely true. The United States may raise the issue of human rights or religious freedom after the missile talks. The Iranian Supreme Leader was right in saying that you cannot negotiate with an enemy looking for excuses. But what is the alternative? Iran must try to rob the US of some of its excuses, especially for a military strike against Iran.
In my opinion, the missile issue is not that important. Iran’s main problem, and the Iranophobia in the world, is mainly due to Iran's position towards Israel. Of course, I do not know even if Iran recognizes Israel, Israel will cease its current approach to Iran or not.
Therefore, Iran must rob the West of this excuse and convince them that they do not intend to attack Israel and recognize it. Although, as I said, I am not sure that this is enough. Unfortunately, the reality is that today Iran’s options are very limited. This is the most important thing that everyone in Iran should know, especially since, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, there is no government in the world ready to stand up to the United States, let alone do it for Iran. With domestic and international policies that Iran has been making over the last forty years, It has brought about a situation where the available options are now very limited for this country.
Which domestic and international policies, causing the complicated conditions for Iran, do you mean?
In my opinion, the priorities of Iran after the Islamic Revolution were not correct. I am not saying that Iran should pursue a nationalist approach like the Pahlavi era. In the early days of the revolution, for some Iranian leaders, it was even difficult to say the "nation of Iran", and everyone spoke of the "Ummah (community) of Islam". Now it is the Ummah of Islam, including Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Egypt, which have created these problems for Iran. Lenin, Stalin, or even Mao, were nationalists and they were thinking of strengthening their country above all. But in Iran some people are "anti-Iran". I am not saying that Iran should lose Islam, but at the same time it should not drown itself in the sea of Islam.
On the other hand, while Iran intends to be part of the Islamic world, the Islamic world does not accept Iran, and they talk about the conflict between "Muslims" and "Shiites". They do not even say the conflict between "Sunnis" and "Shiites". This has been Iran’s biggest mistake.
Another big mistake by Iran was its “fighting global arrogance” approach. Especially when the bipolar system is about to disappear, fighting global arrogance has no meaning. Iran cannot tangle with the whole West. Another issue is that the ideologues of the Islamic Revolution were very weak in terms of understanding international relations. I have read all the books by Mr Shariati and I did not understand what his thesis is at all.
Another issue is that in the 21st century there cannot be a social and cultural system in which women's rights are not respected or women are viewed in a humiliating light. This system is for the 15th century at least. Therefore, Iran must abandon such policies and adopt a national approach, although it may be too late. What I mean by a national approach is that every policy-making in Iran should be examined first to see whether it is beneficial for Iran and preserves its territorial integrity or not. Will it help Iran's progress and provide the people of Iran with a decent, honorable life or not?
Do you believe that Iran's foreign policy is not based on the national interests of Iran?
In my opinion, Iran's foreign policy has not been based on the national interests of Iran. Because Iran has pursued an ideological policy in a particular region, and, for instance, has sacrificed everything for Palestine. While, in other places, it has had a strange passive policy and has paid ransom to many countries, including Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Russia, and China. Iran cannot expect to clash with the United States and not be harmed.
There are countries around Iran that either have 4000 km range missiles like Saudi Arabia or nuclear weapons, such as Pakistan, Russia and Israel. Iran claims it wants missiles to defend itself in such a region. How can this issue be solved?
It should be noted that defense policy is not limited to weapons. On the other hand, missiles are not an important deterrent to fighter aircrafts. However, I am not saying at all that Iran must definitely enter the missile negotiations. My question is, what is the alternative option? You see if Saudi Arabia is now intimidating Iran, it is due to the change in the United States’ stance toward Iran compared to the Obama era. In fact, Bin Salman is encouraged by US and Israeli support. Therefore, it is likely that the United States will not directly engage in war with Iran, but make Saudi Arabia go to war with Iran, and under the circumstances, play a supportive role for Saudi Arabia.
On the other hand, Iran has its own specific conditions. Iran has a dangerous geopolitics and it is an isolated country. The price Iran has paid to preserve its culture has led to its isolation. Aside from the conflicts the Arabs have together, they have the same opinion about Iran. Bashar al-Assad says the three islands (Abu Musa and the Greater and Lesser Tunbs) belong to the UAE. Al-Abadi also referred to the Arabian Gulf. So why should Iran spend money on these countries? Iran should have a relationship based on mutual respect with these countries rather than sacrificing itself for them.
If Iran's leaders decide to set aside these positions, how likely is the change in Iran's relations with the West, especially the United States?
I do not want to talk or create expectations that do not come true. The issue is not as simple as if negotiations begin tomorrow, things will become just fine. Incidentally, another dangerous geopolitical feature of Iran is that Iran is a country that is both large and has a culture, and it still has a lot of natural resources that with good management a lot of things can be done. Big countries do not like such a government, and this is not just about Iran. Therefore, Iran will always have these problems. Iran’s condition is like a person with cancer. Treatment is not definitive, but can be managed in such a way that it does not harm the person very much.
I believe that the basis of foreign policy is inside the country, and therefore the first thing to be done in Iran is a kind of social opening. People cannot be mournful forever. On the other hand, those who have all the power should share this power with others. A serious talk should happen domestically, and as the President said, the reforms should give both Iran and Islam their rights. The confrontation between these two has always been a mistake and will be detrimental to people. Iran is an important country and the world will not allow Iran to build a wall around itself; but even if Iran succeeds in building a wall around itself, then it will turn into North Korea.
But do you accept that Iran’s importance should be recognized by the world?
Recognizing the importance of a country is not something that can be forced on others. The importance of a country is recognized by its behavior and achievements in the administration and development of the country.