Bush 'sought negotiations with Iran’

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Friday - 11 November 2016

Nasser Nowbari was Iran’s ambassador to Moscow (1986-1990) when the Soviet Union was still an entity. He was in charge when Mikhail Gorbachev received a delegation from Iran’s Revolutionary government delivering Imam Khomeini’s message which had famously predicted the fall of the Soviet Union.

Nowbari had been keeping a low-profile, avoiding media contacts and interviews, during past 2 years. His interview with Mehr News Political Service is his first since then. He told Mehr News that Iranian government received messages through Oman by the Bush administration which had filed for direct talks, with Tony Blair of Britain, acting as plenipotentiary in possible talks to which Iranian side faltered to respond properly, thus sending Blair distraught back to London after two days of futile waiting. He however believes the inclement weather was the major cause to blame on the failure of the overtures by the US. “The snowstorm had all flights cancelled; Oman’s king suggested sending exclusive flight to transfer me to Oman, to which Iran’s Ahmadinejad’s government failed to fashion a response,” Nowbari said, claiming that he was invested with the authority to talk to Blair who represented the west.

Nowbari credits himself with securing an Iranian embassy in the Soviet Socialist Republics; he believes Russia was the first to announce using Nowjeh Airbase so that it could enter a trade-off with the west with an upper-hand.

What is your analysis of Iran-Russia relations? What factors had taken Russia closer to Tehran, and what are the prospects of this bilateral cooperation?

Iran-Russian ties have grown in par with developments in the region; when little politics is at stake, Iran and Russia would be distanced accordingly. For example, when Russia was engaged in Afghanistan, there had been new highs in Iran and Russian relations. Mr. Boris Yeltsin’s term however saw a perigee of the relations, since he welcomed approaching to the US; when the US or any other western power approached Russia, a corresponding recession would govern Tehran-Moscow ties. The situations were so until Mr. Vladimir Putin assumed power, when the country had not yet found itself in international setting when it wondered whether west would welcome Russia. Russia under Putin recovered soon and sought to establish a new eastern strategic body to counterbalance hegemony of the west; it thus turned to the east. In Putin’s era, for example, S300 missile defense system was pledged for and signed with Iran. After collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia for a time entertained to join the west and to dissolve into western hegemony to not least enjoy the technological advancement and the welfare coming from its lifestyle, a project, which, during Yeltsin’s era, was addressed insufficiently, and it was only a thin layer of cooperation with the US. The political elites recommended a turn to the US, which, Dmitri Medvedev was also pursuing. During all these times, relations with Iran tumbled to a nadir.

Why would the west reject Russia?

Russia had been inherently a Communist entity, bold enough to address its imperialist ambitions in international community. Russia had been for a prolonged period an enemy to the US during the Cold War, and a formidable rival in many strategic fields; Putin himself has alluded to its inherent imperialist ambitions in many occasions. The passing of time and experiences with the west has taught Putin to face the west with an eastern system and using weaponry often in use in the east.

So this is why Russia annexed Crimean Peninsula? And would it be compared to nuclear negotiations Iran had with the west, where Russia had Iran’s trump card?

This is an accurate example. Russia was to face US-aligned system in the Peninsula and manage the situation to avoid more violent confrontation. The US should have Russia on its own side during nuclear negotiations to save itself from a war; if Russia approached Iran, no nuclear agreement would be possible. In Ukraine, Russia sought a win-win situation with the west through its preponderance in nuclear negotiations. In any détente with Moscow, Tehran had had developments in the region as good omens; crises in Syria, Yemen, and Iraq catapulted Tehran-Moscow ties to new highs; in any situation when peace persisted, bilateral ties had been historically low.

Despite the generally upheld hatred of the Britain and the US, at least part of the elites seek détente with the US, while this is not true of the relations with Moscow, with elites reluctantly viewing possible openings with Moscow. What factors contribute to this?

Economic and cultural relations with the west draw the elite to the western culture and weltanschauung; that level of affiliation is lacking with Moscow and ties have been only in security and political levels; economically speaking, Iran has more affinities with west than Russia, which has roots in history. Even after a period of turning to east, with JCPOA, west occupies a prominent place from an Iranian perspective. Infatuation with the west has been largely inveterate among the elites. Political and cultural hegemony lay in the west according to Iranian elites. Russia and Iran had opportunities to change this trend when Turkey distanced itself from Moscow; however, they had largely been a key player in Russian markets and had improved their exports to Russia since then.

What hope-inspiring prospects does Iran-Russia détente provide?

I believe Tehran-Moscow will be less when the Middle East sees an end to its crises; we lack necessary cultural and social relations which would bolster political relations; Moscow needs Tehran as long as its strategic and security reasons persist, just when it had done during war in Afghanistan in 1980s.

Would a Cold-War rivalry persist between the US and Russia?

It would, albeit with little heat and intensity; Russia solely seeks to revive its idealized past glory when it had been recognized an international player; it would not seek to ingrain its ideology of the left just as it did during Soviet era. Today, Russia does not pursue a plan to secure interests of its camp and affiliated satellite countries, since there is no commitment in Moscow for a possibly new Eastern Block. Russia however would seek revival of its traditional importance without any Block commitment and announcing of using Nowjeh Airbase served this objective; Russia was triumphant in assertion of its hegemony in the region where the US and its allies were merely onlookers.

Why would you oppose using the airbase by Russians?

I think the government should have developed a plan whereby it would gain some points for allowing Russia to use the airbase. But the latter brought home the bacon: they communicated to the US that they would spare no option to find a way forward, but Iran was passive viewer and achieved nothing special.

You have been of opinion that Iran’s diplomatic machinery lagged behind during nuclear negotiations and since then; how would you provide more analysis on this?

Our diplomacy has a populist tilt, either in software or hardware; the government Mr. Rouhani formed has secured little in terms of economic and political gains during its 3 years of diplomatic hectic negotiations, what forced it a new shift toward Latin America and Asia. This I would aptly call populism; the government had been frustrated by the west and it had been in a rush to turn to a side for compensations: it would turn to west once again should the west show a green light. As a system based on Revolution, Iran should pursue an independent policy and should act autonomously in opening relations with other players in more level grounds. To put all eggs in a single basket would result in frustration.

You have told earlier that JCPOA had ended nuclear industry; would you still insist on this?

Evidence shows that what I had predicted 3 years ago had unfortunately been the case now. The Leader’s concerns voiced in many occasions provide testament to this. Mr. Abbas Araghchi now would reach the same conclusions, however levelling the same criticism I had in more palatable and favorable sugar-coated expressions. I would contend that in any trade-off, accepting empty promises would only serve the interests of the 5+1, with Iran languishing in loss of its valuable assets as its nuclear facilities shut down. Today, FATF and banking restrictions still bite our economy. Wherever Iran sought openings in its economy, western tentacles severely restricted our maneuverings.

The current nuclear team has stuck in a vicious circle where it faces a quandary of conceding in serious areas to avoid domestic exposure of their same conceding to the US. So, for the time being, the team would engage in a policy of justification inside and keeping a smiling face outside. The government should reshuffle the Foreign Ministry for any serious addressing of the implementation of the JCPOA.

How would you interpret US presidential elections and candidates with regard to their view of Iran?

Historically, US presidential elections have been the ground where two overriding views compete for the White House; the past and the future. When the past exits, enter the future. They function symbolically. Now, in 2016 edition of the event, Donald Trump exemplifies the future, with Obama’s administration (of which Hillary Clinton is a representative) acting as the outgoing past. However, Mrs. Clinton would challenge Trump’s representation for change through the rhetoric that Obama’s administration succeeded in active diplomacy, where no change would be necessary. The edition however saw a change where personalities of two candidates and their performance in matters other than public policy were in the spotlight, and which revealed some of the most notorious scandals of any presidential election campaigns in the US; as such, the candidates have largely used scandals to canvass public votes for their cause, however the world now views the election campaign with conservatism and pessimism. In a highly religious country such as the US, people would recoil from participation in politics when the lid is lifted on candidates’ conducts outside politics.

Circles sympathetic to the nuclear negotiators and JCPOA would argue in favor of the deal, believing that it ruled out a looming war, which would devastate the country. How would you think of this argument?

There was no war possible, which they claim they ruled out; this is disingenuous to claim; nuclear negotiation, at least at home, was largely seen as a method to alleviate the effect of sanctions, and war occupied no important place in achieving the deal with the west. Even when in Iran and the US, both presidents were hawkish (Ahmadinejad and Bush), the war was not the issue at all. At that time, when the US was engaged in Afghanistan, Bush administration took the initiative in sending message to Tehran that it would directly talk through Tony Blair in Oman, to which Iran’s response were lethargic and Blair left Muscat after two days of waiting. Both Democrats and Republicans would not entertain engaging in a war to which Iran is a part.

How would you interpret Tehran-Riyadh recent tense relations after JCPOA?

JCPOA was much-vaunted for its lending Iran an upper-hand in the region, with highest technological advancement and a positive approach toward Tehran; however, things took a different turn since then and John Kerry had frequented Arab capitals of the Persian Gulf; he would pit the Arab states against Iran, with Saudi Arabia spearheading the new approach of containing Iran; the proxies in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Mina incident serve as examples of this belligerent approach. Obama and Kerry would condemn the more extremist circles in Riyadh, but this is just the saving face by Washington and smiling to Iran acts as a cover-up of the fact that Saudis serve their interests. As with the small Arab states of the Persian Gulf, they are too weak to form an independent policy. Their Persian Gulf Cooperation Council has failed to achieve anything for years. Tensions between Persian Gulf Arab states and Iran are fueled by the US to control Iran in the region, even after the country has recovered with provisions of JCPOA, to which the politicians in the Foreign Ministry should be alert.  

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