Gabrielle Rifkind: Want to ease tensions with Iran? Just try talking

A little known fact is that in 2003, the Iranians discussed a secret 'Grand Bargain'

Share

The evidence put out over the weekend by American military officials in Baghdad - that Iran is supplying Shia extremists groups in Iraq with deadly weapons - has ratcheted up tensions. But as the US continues the biggest naval build-up in the Gulf since the Iraq war, have all the diplomatic options been fully explored?

"Creative diplomacy and leadership" was called for last week by the Atomic Energy Agency chief, Mohamed ElBaradei. He emphasised the dangers of an uncontrolled chain reaction if confrontation with Iran made the Middle East more militant and angry. He called for a three-month time-out period that allowed for a comprehensive settlement covering not just covering nuclear issues but security and trade, which have polarised issues between Iran and the United States for 25 years.

The current crisis could present new opportunities as the political landscape in Iran is changing. There are increasing signs that President Ahmadinejad may have suffered a near fatal blow. In an unprecedented criticism of his bellicose foreign policy rhetoric, and his poor record on promised reforms at home, 150 members of the Iranian Majlis (parliament) signed a letter blaming him for raging inflation, soaring food prices, high unemployment and failure to deliver a budget on time.

Pragmatists in Iran claim that Ahmadinejad's provocative rhetoric in which he declared "Iran would not suspend uranium enrichment even for one day" runs the risk of torpedoing any chance of better relations with the West. His declining position coincides with a crushing defeat in December's local elections, when his allies won only a fifth of the seats for the Tehran City Council. The results suggest a move away from dogmatic conservatism and a growth of support for his presidential rival, Mohammed Baqer Qalibaf, the mayor of Tehran, who is known for more pragmatic policies.

Even if this does not happen, the changing mood inside the country and the external pressures from the UN Security Council may have encouraged those in charge of foreign policy to challenge Ahmadinejad. Under Iran's complex constitutional set-up, President Ahmadinejad is responsible only for domestic policy, not for Iran's external relations. Foreign policy is made by the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei under the guidance of the National Security Council.

A military strike from outside, either from the US or from Israel, would derail these developments and would be welcomed by the regime hard-liners. During a recent visit to Tehran, I spoke to hardliners and moderates. Many felt that the consequences of outside intervention would lead the Revolutionary Guard to declare a state of emergency, marginalising moderate influence for the next decade. This would escalate Iran's thrust to become a nuclear-weapon state. A surge of nationalistic fever could secure Ahmadinejad's position.

A little-known fact is that in 2003 the Iranian government, under the then-president Mohammad Khatami, discussed a secret "Grand Bargain" with Swiss interlocutors at the time of the fall of Saddam Hussein. In return for US security guarantees of non-interference in the regime, the end of sanctions and the opening of the possibility of joining the World Trade Organisation, Iran offered support for a two-state solution for Israel and Palestine in which it said it would accept the 2002 "Beirut Declaration", in which the Arab League endorsed this objective. It also offered to give up supporting terrorist groups.

What then is the scope, four years later, to revitalise such an initiative, and could the changing mood in Tehran offer new opportunities?

There is much suspicion and mistrust about the intentions of the Iranian and US governments. Tehran insists that the US policy is aimed at regime change, and the US charges Iran with attempting to sabotage its attempts to stabilise the Middle East. Mutual security agendas need to be addressed.

Can the gradual drum beat towards war against Iran be averted? Is it possible to mitigate Iran's nuclear threat by offering a deal that addresses the security concerns of all the parties engaged in this conflict? ElBaradei's call for "a three-month time-out period" could address much deeper questions and anxieties about Iran's place in the region, the future of the regime and relationships with the West and Israel. Could the changing mood in Tehran open up more possibilities to pursue this agenda?

Gabrielle Rifkind is a specialist in conflict resolution. She co-authored 'Making Terrorism History'

gabriellerifkind@talk21.com

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Maintenance Assistant

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Maintenance Assistant is requ...

Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Newspaper stands have been criticised by the Child Eyes campaign  

There were more reader complaints this year – but, then again, there were more readers

Will Gore
 

People drink to shut out pain and stress. Arresting them won’t help

Deborah Coughlin
A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?