Originally Published 2013-11-13 08:55:34 Published on Nov 13, 2013
As US President Obama reshapes America's relationships in the Middle East, new equations are likely to emerge within the region and more Space will be created for China to win over the old allies of the US.
Obama's Middle East policy a boon for China?
" The recently concluded (7th to 9th November) nuclear negotiations of Iran with the P5+1, in Geneva, have again failed to produce any agreement of sorts, except that they have all agreed to meet within the next 10 days. How the differences that could not be resolved over two days of scheduled talks, that got extended to the midnight of the third day, would be resolved within the next 10 days is anybody's guess.

What is surprising is that French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, if the reports are to be believed, stood out like a sore thumb and that US Secretary of State John Kerry tried to iron out the differences between the former and his Iranian counterpart Jawad Zairff. Since when have the French become the guardians of Israeli interests? Or were they defending the Saudi interests in preventing a 'Grand Bargain' between the US and Iran?

It was quite clear that neither John Kerry nor US President Obama got bullied by the threats of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who tried his best to sabotage the talks on the beginning of the second day by alerting the AIPAC and the Republican lobby in the US that 'a deal of the century' is in the making in Geneva.

What Israel wants cannot be the bottom line of any negotiations with Iran, though the US tried to ram that position down the Iranian throats for the last three years. That position is basically summed up in three points, i.e., shut Fordow nuclear plant, shift the 20% enriched Uranium to a third country and stop enrichment of Uranium. Iran has rejected all three demands outright and quite legitimately so. It argued that the NPT clearly permits nuclear R&D for 'peaceful purposes' and enriching Uranium up to 3.5% for generating electricity, or even up to 20% for producing nuclear isotopes for cancer treatment is entirely for peaceful purposes and is permitted under its treaty obligations. It regarded these demands as infringing upon its sovereign rights as a nation and coming as they did from Israel - an undeclared nuclear weapon power - was quite rich, if not utterly arrogant and bizarre.

From Hillary Clinton onwards, the Democrat leadership in the US had openly recognized Iran's rights under the NPT to enrich Uranium for peaceful purposes, but the hitch was whether to stop it at 3.5% or allow it up to 20%. From the reports that are emerging now, it appears that they have agreed to accept 20% as the cut-off mark, if Iran assured no further enrichment beyond the medium enrichment levels. Now what has probably emerged is that low enrichment of Uranium (LEU) would of course be permitted, but medium enrichment of Uranium (MEU) would be tolerated under certain stringent terms of verification and assured transparency. That may have been the new terms of engagement with Iran. And this was termed as the 'Deal of the Century' by Netanyahu who set the wolves to bay for blood.

Why does Iran, which claims that a nuclear weapon is 'Haram' and that it is prohibited by the Fatwa of the Supreme Leader, insist on going up to 20% enrichment, especially when the international community assured it of supply of nuclear isotopes if it shifts its MEU to a third country. Iran's argument is simple ? it does not trust the West. And that is not hard to believe, especially after what the West has done to Iran since the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88), when they encouraged, armed and assisted Saddam Hussain to crush the nascent Islamic Republic and the continued imposition of a harsh regime of sanctions that have crippled its economy, isolated it politically and threatened of military strikes against its nuclear reactors. Well, the West clearly does not come out as a reliable friend of Iran and why on earth would it trust them with its enriched uranium, of all the things?

How close were they to an agreement and what went wrong in the last day is not known, but one can surmise the following from an observation of the past several rounds and media reports of the latest round of talks.

  a)    Iran was much more serious and committed to negotiating on the critical issue, this time around, than were the teams led by Saeed Jalili in the past. Saeed Jalili used this forum to discuss regional political issues rather than the nuclear issue and it was most often a discussion between the deaf.

  b)    US seems to have unshackled itself from the Israeli agenda and is pursuing a more reasonable approach, in continuation of the ice-breaking tele-conversation between Presidents Obama and Rouhani in September.

  c)    The clear enunciation of support to Rouhani's team by the Supreme Leader Ayotallah Khamanei that "they are also the children of the revolution and they are working hard to protect the revolution and there efforts must not be criticized" is a final and stern warning to the hardliners in Tehran. This is also a sign that Iran is now ready to offer concessions on issues that it insisted as its non-negotiable sovereign rights.

  d)    The message that the US is NOT aiming to change the regime has gone down well in Tehran. Assured of its survival, the regime is now ready to bargain on all other issues. In return for the lifting of sanctions and recognition of Iran as a regional power, it would readily offer to assist the West in the major hotspots of the region such as Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan and the Middle East Peace Process.

It could well be a win-win situation for all, but then this is precisely what the Israelis and the Saudis are afraid of; a 'Grand Bargain' between the US and Iran that could leave them both in the lurch. Hence the strong reaction from the Saudi royalty in refusing the much sought after seat in the UN Security Council. This was a culmination of its anger over a series of incidents, right from the American handling of Hosni Mubarak's ouster to its refusal to blame Iran for the unrest in Bahrain, to its more recent decision not to intervene in Syria and overthrow the regimes that it does not like.

The fact that Saudi Arabia actually forfeited its seat in favour of Jordan in the UNSC is a clear indication of a serious rift in US?Saudi relations. As President Obama reshapes America's relationships in the Middle East, new equations are likely to emerge within the region and more space will be created for China to win over the old allies of the US.

(The author is a Visiting Distinguished Fellow at Observer Research Foundation, Delhi)

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Anjali Birla

Anjali Birla

Anjali Birla is an Indian Civil Services Officer(Batch 2020) working in the Ministry of Railways and has done her graduation in Political Science from Delhi ...

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