We interviewed an orientalist scholar, Giorgi Lobzhanidze, on geopolitical ambitions of the Islamic Republic of Iran and its aspirations.
– Iran has never denied the fact of enriching Uranium. However, it insisted that the nuclear program served Iran’s domestic or civil purposes only, and that its endeavors were not in any way related to military ones. However, the West, and namely the USA, never believed Iran. Later, the situation was followed by the demands to reduce Iran’s share of uranium enrichment. Iran did not agree that resulted in rather severe sanctions for the country. The sanctions imposed due to the nuclear program were not devastating for Iran, but they still hampered its economic development. Presently Iranian Rial suffers inflation and, most probably, the very economic factors made Iranian Government to surrender and agree to the talks.
– The Iranian Nuclear Program has been considered to be the hugest challenge of the region for the last decades. Why now and not earlier? What made it possible to achieve the agreement?
– The West (The EU and the USA) has been trying to hold talks with Iran on its Nuclear Program since 2006, however, without any positive results. During the previous President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the negotiations ended in deadlock and it was impossible to achieve the final agreement. However, under the new President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, some hope emerged that the negotiations could reach actual outcomes. And, it really happened – we have results. After very tiring negotiations held in Lausanne, the parties agreed on the Joint Plan of Action that will regulate the Iranian nuclear program. The Lausanne Agreement cannot even be called a treaty. It is more like a declaration. Terminology really matters in this situation. If we read the document and try to translate it into diplomatic language, we will see that according to Lausanne declaration Iran is in a very tough, a no-win situation. The first thing that comes into your mind is that Iran was made to sign the document.
– How was Iran made to agree on this, as you call it, declaration?
– The first and the most obvious reason is an economic factor. Iran is suffering economic crisis. The level of standard of living has fallen. However, along with the economic one, there should be some other reasons as well. There might exist some other agreements that we don’t know about as they are not on the surface, and neither of the parties wants to talk about it. Iran agrees and takes the liability to enrich Uranium to just 3,67% for the next ten years. The figure is too low compared to the ambitions the country had when it started the program. In addition, the experts of the International Atomic Energy Agency will be allowed to all related sites and monitor the implementation of the conditions of the achieved agreement. Iran will not build new facilities for enriching Uranium. The most important is that Iran will stay to be a part of the Agreement on Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Arms, meaning that it will not produce nuclear weapons.
– Is that what the West was struggling for?
– For the time being the West arrived at the maximum of what is was demanding from Iran. In return, Iran achieved some stability. In addition, the declaration states that the sanctions will be gradually relived if the conditions of the agreement are met. However, the above provision only concerns the sanctions related to the nuclear program. This very provision of the declaration became the subject of hot criticism in the Parliament of Iran.
– The upshot is that in reality Iran agreed on everything not receiving anything in return, isn’t it? What are the benefits of this agreement for Iran?
– Yes, Iran has not received anything so far, and that’s true if the agreement doesn’t envisage some other additional agreements. However, the question is – why was such an important agreement signed so hastily? That’s what raises my doubts. The Lausanne agreement causes skepticism even in the West, including the USA. The West thinks that Iran will not meet the conditions and it needs the document to just buy time. However, if we look at how Iran behaves on the international arena, we will realize that there are no grounds to doubt the country’s “conscientiousness”. The Islamic republic of Iran has not breached any international agreement so far. That should be emphasized as a very significant detail.
– The Lausanne Agreement was followed by rather heterogeneous reactions in Iran and in the West, as you have mentioned. What caused such differences in opinions? Can we say without any reservations that this decision is positive for the West?
– The reactions are not homogeneous even in Iran. The agreement was followed by positive as well as negative assessments.
If we look at the present situation and evaluate the reality in an unbiased manner, we will clearly see that high percentage of population of Iran were for the agreement supporting its terms and conditions. However, there were people who opposed the agreement. Ayatollah Khomeini declared from the very first days of the negotiations that he unconditionally supported the part of the Government involved in the negotiations. It is important since the positions of the spiritual leader of Iran are accepted without almost any criticism.
After the conclusion of the agreement, a representative of Ayatollah Khomeini made an announcement stating that the spiritual leader did not share either the form or the content of the agreement. “Iran exchanged its ready-to-race horse with a broken bridle” – that’s how he commented on the Lausanne deal. The words of the Iranian leader clearly show the approach of a part of Iranians towards the agreement. Shortly after this, Ayatollah Khomeini made another comment saying that in principal he shared the concept of the agreement. These facts clearly showcase how heterogeneous the situation is in Iran. It is noteworthy that neither the spiritual leader of Iran, nor the President and high officials have stated that the agreement is bad or its provisions should not be enforced.
– What might be the benefits of the agreement generally and not only for Iran, taking into consideration the existing geo-political situation?
– In this respect the agreement is especially interesting. Gradually, Iran may become a very active player in the region. The agreement will allow Iran to implement many projects that have been dormant, including Nabucco project. The agreement and lifting of sanctions will enable Iran to sell its energy carriers in the West and earn a huge amount of money. There were some doubts that Iran had done it on purpose because it wanted to get stronger by selling oil to the West that would enable it to reemerge in an absolutely different rank when it came to nuclear program. It is difficult to judge now.
Anyway, it is clear that Iran foresees some benefits. The team participating in the negotiations was not composed of ordinary people. They were quite experienced diplomats. It is also noteworthy that the Lausanne Agreement has opponents in the West as well as in some countries of the region. They fear of possible ties between the USA and Iran. Iran remembers the 36 unbearable years created by the USA quite well. It will be difficult to forget those years quickly. But, it is inevitable that the situation between the USA and Iran will change, and it will change for the better.
Iran has become more flexible. The country sees itself in perspective. It thinks of how to stay an Islamic state and be a partner, at the same time.
As for the role of Iran in global politics, it has never been and will never be a small player – the one you needn’t take into consideration. It will re-enter the global politics as a rather strong player. Iran is a vast country with huge potential. This is a country with 80 million population and over 70% of this population are young people. It has tremendous potential. And the most important is that Iran is the country that has always had its statehood. Iranian officials know how to think in favor of the state.
Iran will use the above opportunities for its benefit. The fact is that a new and strong player is entering the global politics. It is so obvious!