As the Iran-P5+1 negotiation hit the crucial stage on Monday night, and the technical teams pushed for a clean text to be released on Tuesday – albeit unsuccessfully – the top sticking point turned out to be the conventional arms embargo imposed on Iran by the UNSC, a senior European diplomat told Asia Times.
BRICS members Russia and China had a coordinated position; “yes” to the end of the embargo. The US and the UK voted “no.” And, crucially, France was wavering.
If this was a decision solely in the hands of French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, the vote would be “no.” But arguably if the final decision rests with President Francois Hollande, it would be a “yes.” There is nothing the French weapons industry would like better than to add Tehran to its still meager list of customers for Rafales and Mistrals.
Turning to the Big Picture, Iranian diplomats were stressing that, “all nuclear-related sanctions should be removed. That was agreed upon in Lausanne.” This means the conventional arms embargo – imposed by the UN in 2007, and tied up in the nuclear sanctions – should also go.
So what was reported by Asia Times early this week continued to apply; there are severe cracks within the P5+1 on several key issues — thus their need to spend more time negotiating amongst themselves than with Iran.
That’s the key reason for a new deadline extension — to Thursday, July 9. And even that may not be the end of the road.
All those brackets
With only 24 hours left before this Tuesday’s D-Day, signs were extremely mixed. The Iranian delegation emphasized, “this was not a deadlock”; after all, the P5+1 foreign ministers were meeting late into the night for the second time in a frantic day. Iranian negotiators were insisting, “Iran is ready to continue as long as there is opportunity of progress.”
Still, the new tentative deadline — Thursday — was already being floated. The Russians, for their part, were getting ready to leave Vienna by Tuesday night; the next immediate destination – which initially should count on the presence of Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif as well – is the crucial, simultaneous BRICS and SCO summits in Ufa, Russia. The SCO will actively start discussing accepting Iran as a member as early as next year in their summit in India.
Although always careful to point out they were not pressed for time, a measure of frustration regarding the real intentions of their American counterparts started to seep in among Iranian diplomats; “If they cannot translate political intention into political decisions we will have to close down these negotiations.”
Still, “both sides don’t want to lose momentum.” Kerry’s rather undiplomatic Sunday move — “the deal could go either way” — was interpreted by the Iranians as a message to placate the internal front (in the US), and win the battle for public opinion at home. Mostly what the Iranians retained was “we’re progressing.”
It’s hard to fathom the complexities hidden in an exhaustively detailed, 85-page text with five attachments. Iranian officials describe it as “a package of 85 pages with lots of brackets.” As one of them put it, “even for a word, or sometimes a preposition, we have to spend a full two hour meeting on the technical level.” “Success” is measured when negotiators are able to clear 15 to 20 brackets a day.
What was soon defined at the final stretch is that after the agreement, “a resolution will be tabled.” The UNSC will “take note” of what was agreed at in Vienna. And then this resolution will suspend all past resolutions on the day of implementation. “The benefit of this resolution,” adds an Iranian technical expert, “ is to record the agreement in Vienna. And then everything passes under the jurisdiction of the UNSC.”
Deep into a warm Viennese night, with the legendary Café Sacher already closed, it was still a long way to go. In a hotel room, an Iranian diplomat mused; “The Americans created a structure of sanctions they don’t want to destroy. Emotionally, they want to keep it.” It’s no wonder that most of the unresolved brackets in the final text still relate to US and EU sanctions.
And there was the rub, once again; would the Obama administration, to its credit, finally let go of the weapon of choice of US foreign policy? That would be worthy of a gala celebration at the Vienna Staatsoper.
This piece first appeared in Asia Times.