Why the West Needs to Reach an Agreement with Iran on the Nuclear Issue
Emma Bonino interviewed by Antonella Rampino 5 November 2014

Negotiations in Geneva must end by November 24th. I understand you perceived concern in Iran. Did Minister Zarif mention the matter?

Minister Zarif clearly explained to us that whatever happens, Iran’s government will proceed normally. However, many signs indicate that if an agreement on the nuclear issue is not reached, this will mark a point of no return. One can sense that pressure applied by conservatives on the reformist government, on Rohani and on Zarif himself, is extremely strong. We may see a repetition of what happened with Khatami, and that same window of opportunity may be closed. After Khatami there were eight years of Ahmadinejad. The West cannot afford to see history repeat itself; firstly because Iran is a great country and one of the few Islamic countries that is not anti-West or anti-American.

One has often read that the Supreme Guide and leader of the conservative hawks, Ali Khamenei, has allegedly “conceded” the reformists time until the end of the 5+1 negotiations. What might happen if negotiations fail?

Let’s address what would happen if they succeed. A serious agreement with reliable monitoring is obviously to be hoped for. After that, it would be possible to establish a dialogue with a player of great importance, not to mention the leading player in the entire region, from Afghanistan to Lebanon, countries that are not at all stable, reminding him of his responsibilities, also and above all as far as Syria and Iraq are concerned. And, of course, also the battle against ISIS. Drones may be a tactical weapon but they are not a strategy. If we believe that the Caliphate is the incarnation of Sunni ideology, it is not with bombs that it will be defeated.

Are you saying that an agreement with Iran must be reached at all costs?

Not at all. In fact, Kerry and Ashton are preparing a road map to get to November 24th and will hold a first meeting with Zarif on Saturday, October 25th. But every possible effort must be made to find a point on which one can mediate, while bearing in mind a number of issues. Iran has signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty that many others have not. And the talking points are basically the same as in the days of Khatami, involving the number of centrifuges and the type of nuclear enrichment.

So you are emphasising the West’s responsibility to avoid repeating the same mistakes…

Yes, and it must do this not out of generosity for Iran, but for itself, because a serious agreement with Iran is the only possible key element for a stabilisation process involving the entire region. That is what is at stake. What I fear is that the West will remain stationary on the basis of alliances that are over two decades old and that in the past 20 years have led us nowhere.

What about Saudi Arabia?

Sunni-Shiite hatred has always been present; it is historical, cultural, religious and geopolitical. There is now a surprising alliance between Saudi Arabia and Israel, albeit perhaps temporary and fragile, but very effective in the U.S. Congress, where Netanyahu said that the problem is not ISIS but Iran. All this is taking place in a Middle Eastern scenario in which every country follows its own agenda while bombing ISIS. We should instead consider a fundamental difference; Sunnis want a political Islam, while the Shiites in Iran have chosen the path of elections, a form of Islamic democracy. This is certainly what terrifies the monarchies in the Gulf.

And yet I remember hearing Zarif say, here in Rome and behind closed doors, that there had been a meeting with the Saudis at which an agreement had been reached on non-interference…

Right, but then Saudi Arabia lowered the price of oil causing problems to both Russia and the United States. I don’t believe that was a coincidence…

So you fear European laziness. But, seeing that Italy is excluded from the negotiations, what are the various positions now in the EU?

There seems to be a degree of French rigidity, while the British are negotiating to reopen their embassy in Tehran. Germany is the country most aware of what is at stake and the complexity of the situation in the Middle East, relying a great deal on diplomacy.

This interview was published by the Italian newspaper La Stampa on October 20th, 2014

Translated by Francesca Simmons



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