Iran's nuclear negotiation strategy under the new conservative
July 31, 2005
“The wave of the Islamic revolution will soon reach the
Iran's President elect -- Mahmud
Such statements give Ahmadinejad the image
of an enemy of the West. This has raised the level of concern in
as Iran of 2005 in terms of conventional warfare capability is
far more potent than at any time since the revolution of 1979.
Added to the sense of concern is Iran's nuclear program which
Tehran claims is required to fill its power generation shortfalls.
Levels of concern reached new highs today when suddenly Iran
said that the EU 3 countries of UK, France and Germany have until
tomorrow August 1 st to submit their security, political and economic
proposals to the Iranian government. According to the Iranian statement
if the EU fails to submit its proposal, Iran will re-start nuclear
activity under the supervision of the UN at its Esfahan plant.
It must be noted that activities at Esfahan are not related to
The EU 3 meanwhile have just issued a statement saying that they
will submit their proposal next week as no previous promises had
been made to the Iranian to have their offer ready for August 1
Through its statement today Iran has certainly upped the anti.
The burning question is why? Is it due to the election of the
conservative President Mahmud Ahmadinejad? More importantly, what
is Iran's nuclear negotiation strategy going be now that the entire
Iranian political hierarchy is under the rule of the conservatives?
The following analysis will examine Iran's claims and needs regarding
its nuclear program. The analysis will address the West's concerns
and suspicions. It will then address the political and economic
factors which will impact the direction of Iran's negotiation strategy.
This piece will be concluded by answering the most important question
of all: will Iran under the conservatives continue with the talks
or will it ultimately break off with negotiations to continue with
its nuclear program?
Iranian needs and rights
The Iranian government claims that it has
a legal right to develop its nuclear capability which it claims are
for peaceful purposes;
mainly to boost Iran's energy production capacity.
A close examination of both claims proves that the Iranian government
With Iran's real GDP expected to grow by 6% next year and with
a growing young population demand for power is growing at 7-8%
Meanwhile Iran wants to reduce the use of its own oil and gas
for energy production as they are better used for exports. Financially
this is a very sound strategy as Iran's daily consumption of 1.5
million barrels of oil per day means that currently the country's
coffers are missing out on $75 million of income a day.
At the same time with decreasing water resources the use of hydroelectric
as means to produce power is becoming less viable.
Therefore nuclear energy in the long term is the most economically
viable method of energy production.
Subsequently Iran aims to produce 7,000 MW of nuclear power (representing
10% of its total supplies) by 2020 through the construction of
20 nuclear power plants.
It must be noted that Iran's claims regarding its “inalienable” right
to a nuclear program for peaceful purposes are in fact backed up
by the Article 4 of the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (NPT). This
treaty gives all sovereign countries the right to use nuclear energy
as long as they are for peaceful purposes, as per Iran's claims.
Tehran's insistence to enrich uranium also
means that its nuclear program can be used to produce atomic weaponry.
Suspicions that Iran would use its civilian nuclear program for
military means were heightened after IAEA inspections found traces
of highly enriched Uranium. The percentage of enriched Uranium
found was more correspondent to the enrichment levels needed to
produce an atomic bomb rather than the levels needed for civilian
energy production as Iran has claimed.
Meanwhile according to the Wisconsin Project Iran has been developing
other nuclear capabilities for military use. These include development
of both molecular laser isotope separation (MLIS) and atomic vapour
laser isotope separation (AVLIS) at the Laser Research Centre in
Tehran. According to the report Iran has also been indigenously
producing neodyne ytterbium-aluminum (Nd-YAG) lasers.
This factor is the source of increased genuine concern not just
for Israel and the US which are singled out by Iran as its enemies,
but also for Iran's economic allies such as the EU and the Persian
A nuclear Iran will not only be a potential source of political
and military threat, it can also have economic repercussions. By
becoming nuclear Iran will be the first member of OPEC with doomsday
capability. Therefore if in the future Tehran decides to hurt the
US economy by pushing up the price of oil through production cuts
at OPEC, it will have a much stronger bargaining position as a
nuclear country than it does now.
So far the EU has managed to convince the Iranian government
to halt its enrichment program. With negotiations set to restart
next week, what should we expect from Tehran?
The election of Ahmadinejad will significantly change the face
and presentation of Iran's strategy at the negotiation table.
However the core goals and mechanisms behind the Iranian negotiation
strategy will remain the same.
As proscribed by Iran's constitution Iran's supreme leader who
currently is the Mashad-born Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei holds
total and absolute constitutional power which is given to him by
the Guardian Council. The President however holds 10% of the constitutional
It is the supreme leader- not the President- who has in the past
and will in the future have the final word over the execution of
Iran's nuclear negotiations with the EU.
However the noted difference in Iran's approach towards the west
will be felt by the absence of the approachable Ayatollah Khatami,
who charmed diplomats with his deep knowledge of Philosophy (so
much so that Moscow University awarded him an honorary PhD in the
subject). Although Ayatollah Khatami was not directly involved
in the negotiations, nevertheless his reformist image did provide
Iran with more diplomatically manoeuvrability against countries
such as the US who wanted Iran to be isolated internationally,
Instead now the West, especially the EU will face conservatives
who are going to follow a policy of anti-Western rhetoric and hostile
posturing which will also be part of Iran's negotiation strategy.
Such posturing will consolidate Khamenei's standing with the
conservative political bodies such as the Guardian Council.
It will also increase Khamenei's popularity with the conservative
sector of the Iranian society to whom the nuclear question has
become a symbol of Iran's sovereign rights and further proof that
the West clearly discriminates against Iran. As far as they are
concerned why is it that other countries such as the US, China,
Pakistan and India who have the bomb don't get threatened with
sanctions and veiled threats of military attacks? However Iran
who is spending day and night professing its innocent nuclear intentions
The forecasted increase in Iran's anti-Western posturing
at the negotiation table is also expected to serve as a tool to
extract more concessions from the EU. This is something which many
conservatives thought reformists such as Ayatollah Khatami and
Ayatollah Rowhani were not good at.
It is also possible that Iran will walk out of the negotiations,
however, these will be for temporary periods only.
It is the Opinion of meepas© that it is very unlikely that
Iran will break off from the negotiations altogether.
This prognosis is based on the understanding by the conservatives
including Ahmadinejad that if Iran stops negotiating with the EU
it will mean that Iran will be referred to the Security Council
for the imposition of economic sanctions.
Ahmadinejad is from the same Revolutionary Guards movement and
ideological background as General Mohsen Reza i. It was General
Reza i who in 1988 convinced Ayatollah Khomeini that despite the
fact that Saddam Hussein is viewed as the enemy of Islam the revolution
and the Iranian people, if Iran continues with the war the revolution
risks losing its rule.
As a result Ayatollah Khomeini, despite having a political and
a personal vendetta against Saddam came to the logical conclusion
that the war had to be stopped. The human and financial cost of
the war, US economic embargo and diplomatic and economic isolation
was becoming too much to bear for the revolution.
The conservatives including Ahmadinejad are also realistic enough
to realise that if the talks with the EU fail they risk economic
Engines of the revolution
Possible sanctions especially from the EU
are a serious threat to Iran's industrial infrastructure, 75% of
which operates on production
machinery and spare parts from EU countries. This is something
which the Iranian economy can not afford as it is already suffering
from inefficiencies related to its inability to purchase American
equipment due to US sanctions.
With the low quality of Chinese and Russian industrial equipment
being the cause of many jokes in Iran, it is engineering products
from mainly France, Germany and the UK which run Iran's industries
More importantly, food is a major import for Iran's economy.
Iran's biggest supplier of food is the EU. The inability to purchase
food for its population due to potential sanctions is a serious
concern for the Iranian government.
Being referred to the UN for economic sanctions is also likely
to have a negative impact on Iran's economic relations with its
Persian Gulf neighbours. This could have a sever impact on Iran's
exports as Tehran recently concluded two massive gas deals totalling
$17 billion with Oman and Kuwait. Furthermore Iran has a booming
trade relation with the UAE totalling $8 billion a year which it
will not want to lose as there are close to 4500 Iranian companies
who have invested in the oil rich UAE.
With former allies such as Syria economically and diplomatically
weakened and with Libya back in the good books of the West, sanctions
will also mean serious diplomatic isolation for Iran.
Experience has shown conservatives especially Ahmadinejad and
his Developers of Iran faction (called Abadegaran in Farsi) that
the engines of the revolution need trade and economic development
as their fuel, not more unemployment and poverty which could be
caused by sanctions.
Such beliefs were reinforced through observation of what happened
to Saddam's regime. First the sanctions severely weakened the Baathist
regime and subsequently this was used as a precursor for those
opposing his regime to attack and overthrow it. The Iranian conservatives
don't want the same. The presence of hundreds of thousands of US
troops sitting on the eastern, southern, western and north western
borders of Iran are good enough reasons as to why not.
Meanwhile with the need to create 500,000 jobs a year for Iran's
young populating sanctions will mean more unemployment for the
biggest sector of the Iranian society.
It was the young and the economically disenchanted including
Mr Ahmadinejad himself who revolted against the political establishment
in 1979. The ruling hierarchy in Tehran takes Iran's young seriously
as their numbers make up the majority of the Iranian population.
Although the regime may not be willing to provide them with the
opportunity for political reform, having them hungry and unemployed
in the streets will certainly raise the level of internal threat.
So far actions by Ahmadinejad prove that he is for the development
of the economy. Just two days after his election he voiced his
support for Iran's ultimate symbol of Western capitalism ie. the
Tehran's Stock Exchange which has a total market cap of $45 billion.
Ahmadinejad has also promised to reform Iran's bureaucracy ridden
Oil Ministry because continued corruption and inefficiencies translates
into reduced ability to finance the country's operations, 80% of
which comes from the sale of oil.
To conclude in the coming months and perhaps in the coming year
it is expected that Iran will act in a more hostile manner towards
to West as means of extracting more concessions and time for its
nuclear program. However Iran will continue to deal with the West
because as any Iranian Businessman would tell you it is better
to have difficult customers than no customers at all.
is a Middle East Analyst at MEEPAS.