Iran’s new horizons


‘Closing an unnecessary crisis: Opening new horizons”. This title of the presentation given by the Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to the resumed negotiations with six world powers in Geneva is a promising and hopeful sign that the long stalemate between them on his country’s nuclear programme can be overcome. He set a positive agenda for the talks, which are to continue next month, and appear to have the potential to reach a settlement that would indeed open new horizons for all concerned.

Mr Zarif is reported to have offered curbs on Iran’s nuclear development programme in return for relieving the crippling sanctions on his country and international recognition of its right to enrich uranium. Iran, a member of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, insists its nuclear programme is for energy. Its negotiating partners offer no proof that Iran has a military programme, but several suspect it does and know how readily it could be realised once a certain technological threshold is reached.

Mr Zarif’s honesty and detailed engagement has gone a long way to re-establish hope of a breakthrough. He suggests a six-month timetable to reach as a first stage an interim confidence-building agreement involving limited constraints on the nuclear programme and some scaling back of sanctions enabling a more comprehensive solution to be negotiated. Technical experts are meeting before the next session to discuss nuclear as well as financial issues. An unprecedented joint statement acknowledged that Mr Zarif’s plan was an important contribution to the talks. It includes agreement in a second stage on what the end state of Iran’s programme should be and then a third one in which common goals would be adopted.

This agenda is unmistakeably serious and has been so received by Iran’s interlocutors. It must be analysed scrupulously and fairly, without the prejudices and dismissive attitudes which marked previous receptions of Iranian offers, especially by the United States. In the scenario of genuinely new horizons it promises for the Middle East, Iran would have less of a strategic need for nuclear weapons because it would be under less threat of attack or regime change. So these negotiations could be self-fulfilling for regional security, perhaps even by opening up new alignments and guarantees against mutual subversion or antagonism, especially with Israel.

That hopeful prospect is for the future. It would be foolish to anticipate it until confidence and trust are established by concessions and concrete acts in coming months between Iran and these powers. Any final agreements must be brought to the United Nations Security Council for endorsement.

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