Articles > > Iran’s Surprise
Articles - Addostour - Date: 2019-07-26
Iran has surprised some of its closest allies by revealing its growing willingness to begin direct negotiations with its regional and international rivals, particularly the U.S.
Only one week before the expressions of readiness began to flow from the mouths of senior officials from its conservative and reformist currents, one of Iran's closest and most prominent allies, [Lebanese Hezbollah head] Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, asserted in an interview with Hezbollah's al-Manar TV on the thirteenth anniversary of the July 2006 war that, 'Iran will not negotiate with the U.S directly, and all its officials agree on this,' but without denying that it 'is open to all initiatives in order to safeguard its interests'. He did not forget to stress that Iran 'will not bow down due to the sanctions,' but that the sanctions would only 'strengthen Iran's domestic production' instead.
Iran's position is rapidly changing, which is only natural, for two reasons: The severity of the sanctions, and the desire to avoid war. Even though it does not want to hold direct negotiations, especially with the Trump administration, Iran has apparently come to acknowledge that it must swallow this bitter pill once more – as it did the first time when it agreed to stop the war with Iraq in 1988. But one does not always get what one wishes, and the winds in the Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz have begun to blow in a direction that bodes ill for Iranian tankers. True, Tehran's allies, in turn, will be consumed by the flames of the sanctions imposed on this central state, but it is also true that the Iranians are those in hot water, and there is no comparing them to those swimming in the shade.
It is also true that every Iranian official who has proposed the notion of negotiations with Washington (with President Hassan Rowhani as the latest) has followed it up with a stream of talk about dignity, mutuality, interests, rationalism, and other such terms. It is true, as well, that all these terms and descriptions amount to mere ink on paper and cannot be translated into a language that others can understand. Ultimately, negotiations will either be held or not, and if they are, they will involve translating the balance of power on the ground, rather than interpreting such words and phrases.
Iran understands this better than most. In this regard, Nasrallah, who erred by ruling out the option of direct negotiations, still hit the nail on the head twice when he said that Iran 'is open to all initiatives in order to safeguard its interests' and that it 'will not bow down due to the sanctions,' However, he made another mistake by saying sanctions would 'strengthen Iran's domestic production.' If that theory were correct, Iran should be thanking the Trump administration for its sanctions and blockade, rather than resorting to bringing the temple down on everybody's head (i.e. the Samson option) so as to speed up its escape from the bottleneck of blockade and sanctions.
Yesterday, a veteran Palestinian journalist asked me, 'Where is Iran heading, and what does it want? Without hesitation, I replied, 'The negotiating table! Everything that Tehran is doing today, and everything that Washington is doing for that matter, serves to pave the way for negotiations and to improve their terms, and the hope to secure a fruitful deal that is, at the very least, based on a win-win equation.
This is a reasonable assessment that does not require high-level contacts with Iranian leaders. As long as Iran does not want war and fears its repercussions, and as long as the situation continues to lead to a dead-end with the different parties standing on tiptoe at the edge of the precipice, it is natural to choose the third option and return to the negotiating table. This does not constitute a loss at Iran's expense, or a diminution of its power. There is no shame in negotiations. The only shame would be in managing them in an indecisive, unwise, and unsound manner.
Iran has engaged in direct negotiations with Washington and its allies before, leading to the  Vienna [nuclear] agreement that Tehran firmly adheres to, and, in fact, demands that Washington return to, proposing that it would fulfill all its entailed obligations should the Europeans succeed in finding an alternative mechanism to compensate for some of its losses due to the U.S. sanctions.
Iran is prepared to return to negotiations, as evidenced by its senior officials' statements. We have no doubt that the Iranian negotiators will stubbornly stand by what they believe to be their country's natural and acquired rights.
Iranian diplomacy has long been characterized as following the same negotiating approach as a Persian carpet vendor; word-for-word and stitch-for-stitch.