Lessons of the Nuclear Diplomacy Conference
On December 2, 2014, Iranian Political Science Association (IPSA) held its annual conference on the Nuclear Diplomacy in Allameh Tabatabai University in Tehran. Foreign Minister Dr. Javad Zarif attended the conference and addressed the audience, mostly consisted of Iran’s Political Science and International Relations community.
This was the first appearance of Dr. Zarif before the Iranian media and public after the November 24 nuclear talks’ deadline between Iran and the P5+1. The Foreign Minister’ main point during his 40 minutes presentation was that the process of the nuclear negotiations has been positive and that the country has never been this much close to reach a deal. He maintained that in the process of the negotiations the country has become more secure, more influential and less vulnerable and that the project of securitizing Iran’s nuclear program by the country’s enemies has already been defeated. He also stressed that the legitimacy of finding a political solution for Iran’s nuclear standoff is largely accepted in the world. At the end, he asked for further supports of the academic and intellectual community in this hard time.
Beyond the significance of Zarif’s presence, holding such a large conference comprised of Iranian academics of different perspectives including the proponents and the critics of the country’s current nuclear diplomacy is itself a turning point in linking the academic and research community with an important policy and executive foreign policy issue. Traditional concepts and themes of Political Science and IR fields such as: history of diplomacy, balance of power, strategic equations, nuclear bureaucracy and disarmament, international regimes, the role of the UN Security Council and international sanctions, great powers’ relations, comparative politics and discourses, etc., were all examined in the context of Iran’s nuclear diplomacy conduct.
The proponents mainly focused on the significance of “interaction” through the nuclear diplomacy with the international community and the subsequent positive implications for Iran’s regional and global status. In contrast, the critics largely focused on the concept of “distrust” regarding the role of America and other great powers in the talks and stressed their uncertainty about the possibility of lifting sanctions in the near future.
One participant compared the situations between the UN Resolution 598 (with regards to the Iran-Iraq war) with the Joint Plan of Action and the historical lessons that can be gleaned from these two important endeavors in Iran’s contemporary diplomatic history. He maintained the conditions are hard and full of constraints in both events and that more solidarity and unity are needed within the nation and especially among the academic and elites’ community to pass through this national issue.
A few other participants focused on strategic aspect of the nuclear diplomacy and discussed that since the United States follows its interests in these talks in strategic context, this necessities Iran to strengthen its strategic and bureaucratic approach in the nuclear diplomacy process. In this respect, one participant with a rather critical view discussed that the negotiations have so far been at the expense of Iran given the fact that Iran neutralized its strategic negotiating asset which was the 20 percent stock of enriched uranium without getting to lift the international sanctions especially those by the United States. From his perspective, this situation will certainly put more pressure on Iran during the extended 7 months period of the negotiations.
Regarding Iran’s nuclear diplomacy in the context of great powers’ relations and the strategic equations, one IR professor maintained that the current government’s nuclear diplomacy is a symbol of Iran’s interaction with the international system through which Iran has managed to improve its global status. Yet in this respect, another professor maintained that the country needs accessing the necessary tools for conducting an equal interaction with the West especially with the United States as the experience shows that the latter part only accepts to negotiate with strengthening nations and states and in equal terms. Another professor maintained here that Iran should increase its regional role to impact the nuclear talks in its favor.
Regarding the sanctions issue, it was discussed that the Western sanctions are not restricted with the nuclear issue targeting beyond it other parts of Iran’s economy. The main point here was that lifting sanctions are mainly related to the U.S. Congress decision and therefore it would be rather unrealistic to think that all the sanctions will be lifted in a matter of short term and the fact that Iran’s nuclear negotiating team should be cautious about this reality. One participant mentioned that only the resistance of the Iranian nation has led the great powers to accept Iran’s nuclear program to continue.
Lastly regarding the role and place of Europe and Russia in the nuclear talks, it was discussed that in the context of the West the main role is played by the U.S. and that Europe currently has a sideline role and that each European state has its own view, but it is clear that all are waiting for the lift of sanctions to resume their economic activities in Iran. One professor held that the Russia’s role is more based on its Eurasian policy implemented after the collapse of the Soviet stressing that the Russian role has not overall been positive during the nuclear negotiations.
In addition to the diversity of the views discussed during the conference, the parallel panels comprised of the Ph.D. students and young scholars who are currently conducting their theses and studies on the nuclear related issues was another strength of the conference. Some of the subjects examined during the panels were: Understanding the Link between the Nuclear Diplomacy and Domestic Discourses; ZOPA in Iran’s Nuclear Diplomacy; Examining the U.S. Policy towards Iran’s Nuclear Program by Constructivism; China and Iran’s Nuclear Issue; Saudi Arabia and Iran’s Nuclear Diplomacy; Iran’s Nuclear Diplomacy in the Context of Russia’s Military-Security Doctrines; Iran’s Nuclear Diplomacy and the International Energy Security; Role of the Israeli Lobbies in Iran’s Nuclear Dossier.
Given the range and diversity of the articles and views presented during the conference, I can conclude that beyond the current challenges posed by the nuclear issue, the Iranian academic circle believe that this issue has in all created new spaces for Iran’s foreign policy conduct. Meanwhile, through this issue the related academic community has extended and focused further its scope of research and scholarly works on strategic and intellectual international-related matters. This shows that conducting research on the nuclear diplomacy both in the context of theory and policy is providing increased new potentials in the domain of Iranian Political Science and IR disciplines in Iran.
Last but not least are the lessons that can be gleaned from the Nuclear Diplomacy Conference. First, is the strong support of the Iranian academic community towards the country’s current nuclear diplomacy and that the issue should be solved by a political solution. This was expressed even by the critics in the conference. Second, the extensive significance of the nuclear related issue in Iran’s academic circle as a national and strategic subject and that strong and independent national views are needed to support the country’s nuclear diplomatic endeavor. And third, the strong believe among the Iranian academic community that Iran’s accommodative nuclear diplomacy has a critical role in strengthening Iran’s regional and international status and that this is the single prominent event of Iran’s diplomatic undertaking in the country’s contemporary history.