EU foreign policy chief Joesep Borrell visiting Tehran in June 2022, after the Russia invasion of Ukraine, and the collapse of Iran's nuclear talks.

Signals from Tehran: A Pattern of Talks, Deception and Delay

Sunday, 06/09/2024

Iran’s censure at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors meeting this week underscored the ongoing tensions surrounding the country's nuclear program.

The IAEA Board of Governors passed a resolution urging Iran to increase its cooperation with the agency and reverse actions that have hindered inspectors, despite concerns that Tehran might respond with further atomic escalation. This resolution, drafted by the European troika, Britain, France and Germany known as E3, and reluctantly supported by the US, passed with 20 votes in favor, two against (Russia and China), and 12 abstentions.

In his remarks in May, IAEA head Rafael Grossi had raised alarms over Iran's threats to develop nuclear weapons while expressing hope for serious dialogue. This juxtaposition highlights a critical issue: Iran has a history of using negotiations as a strategic tool to advance its nuclear capabilities, extract concessions, and avoid punitive measures, all while continuing its covert operations and support for militant groups.

Over the past 30 years, Iran's negotiation strategy has been marked by deception and delay. Every diplomatic engagement with the West has been leveraged to buy time, stop damning UN resolutions for human rights violations, enhance its nuclear technology, and gain economic and political concessions without genuinely abandoning its nuclear ambitions.

In the early 2000s, revelations about undeclared nuclear facilities in Natanz and Arak triggered international concern and led to negotiations. However, Iran's responses were characterized by stalling tactics. While Tehran engaged in talks (in 2000s and 2010s) and agreed to suspend uranium enrichment temporarily, it simultaneously continued covert activities and expanded its nuclear infrastructure. These negotiations provided Iran with the breathing room needed to develop its capabilities further while presenting a facade of cooperation.

Seyed Hossein Mousavian, a former Iranian nuclear negotiator, provides an illustrative example of this tactic in a 2005 interview with Iran's National TV. Mousavian explained that in 2003, Iran faced a 50-day ultimatum to suspend its enrichment activities. Instead of complying, Iran entered into negotiations with the IAEA and Europe, which extended the deadline and bought Iran two years to complete its projects in Esfahan and Natanz. During this period, Iran advanced its nuclear capabilities, gained permission to join the World Trade Organization (WTO), and secured international guarantees for its security, national sovereignty, non-intervention in its internal affairs, and protection against invasion. (Minute 15:37 to End)

Another example of this strategy has been particularly evident in the context of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and other diplomatic efforts. The JCPOA, signed in 2015, was hailed as a landmark achievement aimed at curbing Iran's nuclear program. However, even during these negotiations, Iran's intentions were suspect. The deal provided Iran with significant economic relief and lifting of sanctions, yet evidence suggests that Iran continued to advance its nuclear research and missile programs clandestinely.

In 2018, stolen Iranian nuclear documents seized by Israeli intelligence demonstrated that Iran's nuclear program was more extensive than previously known, with plans to build up to five nuclear weapons. These revelations highlighted Iran's strategy of deception and its efforts to advance its nuclear capabilities under the guise of peaceful purposes. These documents prove that even before President Trump exited the JCPOA, Iran was dishonest about its nuclear activities. Also, it continued developing its nuclear capabilities, building missiles, and arming militant groups in the Middle East, some listed by other countries as terrorist organizations.

The repercussions of these activities were starkly evident in the October 7 attack on Israel, the Houthi disruptions of vessels in the Red Sea, and the Hezbollah attacks on Israel from Lebanon. The international community's response has been mixed, with European countries often seeking to salvage the deal through concessions, inadvertently reinforcing Iran's strategy of using negotiations to gain time and advantages.

Notably, Iran's nuclear negotiators, such as Mousavian and Javad Zarif, were trained by Ali Akbar Velayati, who has regularly expressed a deep-seated animosity toward the West and its liberal values and has been one of the main figures in Iran's foreign policy for the past four decades.

Many of these negotiators lived and studied in the West, gaining a profound understanding of Western political dynamics and strategies. Iran's negotiators are well-versed in the concept of carrot and stick, frequently employing it against Western countries: threatening to enrich uranium and develop nuclear weapons while simultaneously calling for negotiations, seeking sanctions relief, and demanding a more significant influence in the Middle East. This approach leverages both intimidation and diplomacy to advance Iran's geopolitical goals, increasing its bargaining power.

This malevolence is evident in the recommendations of Saeed Jalili, a former nuclear negotiator, who advocated for Iran to abandon efforts to revive the JCPOA. He suggested that Iran should begin enriching uranium to 90 percent purity and then engage in direct negotiations with the United States to obtain necessary concessions.

Mousavian echoed this sentiment, stating that when the pressure is too high and the consequences too severe, Iran should move directly toward developing a nuclear bomb. They hold a powerful card, knowing that Europeans are opposed to war between the US and Iran and that the US is unlikely to launch a costly attack on Iran. Thus, Iran uses its proxies to create mayhem in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Israel, and Lebanon, supplies missiles and drones to Russia for use against Ukraine, plans terror attacks against Iranians in the diaspora, and simultaneously demands negotiations.

A critical understanding of Iran's foreign policy reveals that, regardless of who holds the positions of president, foreign minister, or negotiator, the ultimate authority lies with the Supreme Leader, as outlined in the IRI constitution. This concentration of power means that meaningful concessions are only made under significant external pressure when the regime finds itself with no viable alternatives. This dynamic underscores the international community's need to maintain a firm stance, applying consistent pressure to elicit genuine cooperation from the Supreme Leader, since all past negotiations only succeeded when the pressure was too high and the Supreme Leader feared losing power.

Iran’s negotiation history clearly shows a strategy not driven by a genuine desire for peace or cooperation. Instead, it is a calculated effort to advance its nuclear ambitions, secure concessions, and avoid punitive measures. The international community must recognize this pattern of bad faith and respond with increased vigilance and accountability.

Western nations and international bodies should enforce stringent verification measures, maintain robust sanctions, and support regional allies threatened by Iran's destabilizing actions. A firm and united approach is essential to prevent Iran from exploiting diplomacy to further its rogue policies and nuclear ambitions. By understanding and addressing Iran’s deceptive tactics, the global community can better safeguard peace and stability.

Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily the views of Iran International

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