So today is not D-Day. No landing in post-Wall of Mistrust territory. A nuclear deal between Iran and the P5+1 won’t be clinched today – for a number of very complex reasons, way beyond the vicious media information war; not least finding the absolute, exact wording in every line of 85 pages of text.
It still amounts, for all the bluster and the dramatic turnarounds, to a question of trust. Rather, breaching the 36-year-plus Wall of Mistrust between Washington and Tehran.
There are breakthroughs, of course. On the status of the Fordo research site, for instance, for the first time both sides reached an agreement. Compare it to the cosmic gap — exacerbated by the American wordplay — on the gradual lifting of sanctions.
This is at the heart of the Viennese diplomatic waltz; what happens after the adoption of an agreement – what some negotiators define as “operationalization.” Only after the US Congress reviews the deal, “iron-clad guarantees” would be provided that sanctions will be lifted. That’s the much-lauded but still hazy “phase three” – when the whole US, EU and UN infrastructure of sanctions is supposed to vanish.
There’s the rub — as a top Iranian official told Asia Times: The main issue for Tehran is how to have complete assurance this complex process will be fully implemented.
What Tehran wants – according to negotiation insiders – is to “carry a parallel process”; while Iran fulfills all its nuclear restriction commitments, the US, especially, works to dismantle the “institutionalized process of sanctions.” It’s no secret Washington controls the whole framework. And the secret for a successful deal is that all these details should be explicit in writing.
Negotiation insiders tell Asia Times that on a technical level, in a maximum of three months all the necessary commitments will be fulfilled. Even something like changing the reactor in Arak, which is very costly.
So where’s the big deal? Once again, it amounts to (mis)trust.
Watch the media centrifuges
The nuclear negotiations operate at three different levels – two of them technical, below the Foreign Ministry level. If only we had a neo-Wittgenstein to deconstruct them.
This is all about the US and Iran. The other players are bystanders at most.
Picture Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif occasionally yelling at US Secretary of State John Kerry in the heat of the moment. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei actually stepped into the fray a while ago, warning Zarif to cool it.
The Russians are not as pro-active as they could; it’s as if they’re betting on a winning Eurasian integration hand, deal or no deal. The Chinese say absolutely nothing; a starring passive role. The Germans are quite rational – even equidistant. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius is just a poseur; but his dramatic posturing is far from qualifying him as a neo-Talleyrand. He’s incapable of adding anything of substance.
And then there are the famous red lines. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei’s were always very clear – even to US negotiators. And these are not his own personal lines; they represent an Iranian consensus.
What’s certain is that after full immersion in the technicalities of the Viennese drama, what happens according to US corporate media has nothing to do with the real deal at the Palais Coburg.
Involving the US Senate is a setback to Lausanne, as Iranian diplomats see it; “Imagine if it was it the other way around, with everything waiting for the word of the Iranian Parliament. Western media, instead of silent, would be furious.” Spinning the Lausanne fact sheet “created a lot of confusion about Iran’s position.”
So the Americans throwing a spanner in the works, in this case, means the US Senate rendering obsolete any notion of a deadline such as today’s.
Oblivious to reality, media centrifuges keep spinning non-stop. Take the US demand — three months ago — to interview 18 scientists and scholars. It was never agreed at the negotiating table in the first place. So even if that disappeared, it was later resurrected to wager a media war.
Other problematic details are merely suppressed. The additional protocol to the agreement has serious parameters. So, for instance, the famous 5c paragraph states that it’s up to the country that is being inspected to decide whether to allow access or not. The IAEA cannot pry around computers at will, for instance. It’s only entitled to perform environmental sampling.
The sanctions on the Freudian divan
Iran’s diplomats are absolutely adamant on changing the “culture of sanctions” – and the massive, concurrent psychological effect that conditions any company, even in Asia, that decides to do business with Iran. Iranian negotiators advance this might take at least six months of hard work. And they are ready to admit the issue at least is still on the table with the Americans.
There are so many mind-boggling questions to tackle in detail. No one knows yet, for instance, about Iranian liquidity spread across different banks. Iran has arguably $110 billion frozen around the world. Rumors that these funds could be diverted “to proxies” by Tehran are met with derision even by European diplomats.
So what if there’s no deal? Zarif already said, on the record, it won’t be the end of the world. That’s because Iran — and Iranians — worked steadily on building a “resistance economy” (and no wonder the Supreme Leader theorized about “heroic flexibility”). As an Iranian official tells it, “the U.S. knows very well that sanctions did not affect Iran. The architects of the Iranian sanctions were sure that Iran would collapse by the end of 2012 at the most. And we would be consumed by social unrest.”
None of that happened, of course. So we’re back to the media centrifuges madly spinning. Here’s a classic, out on the eve of D-Day.
AFP put out a story this Monday titled, US says system reached to allow American access to suspected Iran sites. Iranian officials describe it as “deliberate misinformation to influence the negotiation table.” They admit it might be, at best, “an American idea.” But this was never negotiated, because it bears no relation with the nuclear issue.
No wonder AFP got a “knock on the door” from the French Foreign Ministry only minutes after the story was out, as Asia Times has learned. In less than an hour, the language was drastically changed, as in “global powers negotiating with Iran have put forward proposals…” By then, the initial – false – narrative had gone viral in every major newspaper around the world.
On June 22, also in an AFP piece, the grandstanding Fabius had outlined his three-pointer for a deal; a “robust accord … that includes limiting Iranian capacity of research and development”; a “verification regime including, if necessary, military sites”; and allowing the “automatic return of sanctions in case of Iranian violations.”
The additional protocol does not contemplate any inspection of military sites. The record shows that Iran, twice, and voluntarily, provided access to the military site of Parchin in 2005. And all questions about the site were resolved by the IAEA.
No wonder Iranian officials now harbor “serious doubts about the intentions of those who are pushing for access to defense installations.” There are no precedents, except the run-up towards the war on Iraq. In that case, the US government totally despised the IAEA, because the decision to launch Shock and Awe had already been made.
Political will, anybody?
This is just a sample of what Iranian negotiators qualify as “a lot of differences” preventing a deal. Every insider in Vienna knows that the US government spins, “Iran needs the deal” while we, the United States, “want the deal.” Iranian officials stress that Lausanne provided the necessary infrastructure for peaceful uranium enrichment, even with severe restrictions. But the US government badly wants Iran to have only “symbolic” enrichment.
Thus the formulation by an Iranian diplomat; “The Americans are showing buyer’s remorse after the Lausanne talks.” And the stonewalling. And the media centrifuges spinning like mad. And the non-stop reinforcement of the Wall of Mistrust – an infernal mechanism with its own non-Wittgenstein logic all geared up to setting up Iran as the fall guy in case of a potential, monumental failure.
So does the Obama administration really want a fair deal – their only foreign policy success? Or is this just yet another elaborate case of “who’s in charge” – a hyperpower avid to prove its unmatched “credibility”?
Pepe Escobar is the author of Globalistan: How the Globalized World is Dissolving into Liquid War (Nimble Books, 2007), Red Zone Blues: a snapshot of Baghdad during the surge and Obama does Globalistan (Nimble Books, 2009). His latest book is Empire of Chaos. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This piece first appeared at Asia Times.