Todays media question:
Q :How do you view the incosisitant attaitude of Rouhani? Does it mean that Rouhani is actually nothing different with Ahmadinejad?
Rouhani’s “inconsistent attitude” isn’t at all inconsistent, but rather a factor of domestic negotiation in Iran, regional relations and a product of diplomacy at Geneva. To put it into context, internally Rouhani needs to have the backing of Ayatollah Ali Khameni and it is clear that he is undecided because he wants to make sure Iran keeps control of its nuclear cycle. Iran does now seem willing to get around the table at Geneva, however, because international sanctions are biting hard domestically. Under Rouhani, we have a situation where a new leadership is willing to talk and they are trying to solve their sanctions problem. In that sense, Rouhani is different to Ahmadinejad; he is weighing up the problem differently and understanding the context Iran is operating differently. This is very important, and why we have a moderate success in Geneva – the US and Iran are now talking, which is fundamental to solving this problem. This hasn’t happened in over 30 years. So fundamentally, Rouhani isn’t any less realpolitik than Ahmadinejad, but he is seeing the problem differently and acting to try and solve it in accordance with how he is viewing the situation.
This is why we see Iran’s redlines, which are seeking to maintain a nuclear threshold. Iran is not willing to abandon its nuclear programme entirely, but rather lower enrichment levels from 20% to around 4%. This is not a complete abandonment, but rather an adjustment of speed and scope that keeps Iran a minimal level of threshold capability. This would keep the region safer, but would not entirely diminish the threat of a nuclear region in the future. Israel has the bomb, so maintaining this threshold capability is seen as important to Iranian security. The Geneva talks do however demonstrate movement on the issue, a willingness to negotiate, and a climb down by Iran.
So what are the dangers here? We need to move the talks forward as a nuclear Iran will make the region and the globe more unstable. If Iran fully develops nuclear weapons (we don’t know when in the future as this is contested by intelligence agencies) then it will start a nuclear arms race that will get out of control. Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey at the very least will want to develop domestic nuclear weapons systems. This will shatter the NPT, which is a very dangerous precedent and undermines all the efforts that have been in place to create a WMD free zone. It would also make a mockery of all the international non-proliferation policies in place. At the same time, there is talk by some that Israel would be more inclined to move to a pre-emptive strike doctrine, which could be a source of future nuclear war in the region. I disagree with this analysis. I think we would move towards a more likely situation of low-level conflict under a nuclear umbrella (which reflected how things played out in India and Pakistan in the 1999 Kargil Crisis) and the acceleration of a regional cold war.