By Bruce Stokes, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Bruce Stokes is director of global economic attitudes at the Pew Research Center. The views expressed are the writer’s own.
As American, European, Russian, Chinese and Iranian negotiators jockey in Geneva over ending the West’s economic sanctions on Tehran in return for a dismantling of Iran’s nuclear weapons program, European and U.S. publics are sending negotiators on both sides a clear message: they oppose Iran having nuclear armaments. They agree on the current imposition of economic sanctions. And they generally support the use of military force if sanctions fail. The Chinese and Russian publics, though, dissent.
At a time when people on both sides of the Atlantic have turned critical of the Afghan War and have recoiled from involvement in Syria’s civil war, there is relative cohesion on Iran in both Europe and the United States. Indeed, there are some signs such solidarity may be strengthening. Yet although Iranian negotiators in Geneva will find little daylight between the American and European publics that they can exploit, differences between transatlantic views and those held by the Chinese and Russian publics may yet prove critical in the talks.
By Ali Vaez, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Ali Vaez is senior Iran analyst at the International Crisis Group. The views expressed are his own.
Seldom has there been so much anticipation of a breakthrough in talks over Iran’s nuclear crisis than is the case for the negotiations starting Tuesday in Geneva. But inflated hopes are dangerous, and the sobering reality of tough negotiations could quickly dash hopes and even derail diplomacy.
The reality is that despite the recent election of a new Iranian administration, one that has been keen to stress that a breakthrough could be just around the corner, it would be naïve to expect a decade-old impasse to be resolved in just two days. After all, Iran’s nuclear crisis is one of the most complex issues in international politics today. And the last time President Hassan Rouhani and his current foreign minister, Javad Zarif, were Iran’s nuclear negotiators – back in 2003 to 2005 – there were two years of talks over a crisis that was then barely a year old.
A deal today would be even harder to imagine. In 2003, Iran was struggling to assemble 164 centrifuges. Today, it has more than 18,000. Back then, Iran had one enrichment facility, one type of centrifuge, no fissile material stockpile and sought to enrich uranium to 5 percent. Now, it has two enrichment facilities, several types of advanced centrifuges, tons of fissile material and is enriching both to 5 and 20 percent levels. These advancements have come at a hefty price. Today, there are numerous sanctions backed by the United States and international community.
Fareed speaks with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. Watch the full interview on "Fareed Zakaria GPS," this Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN.
What did you think of President Obama’s statement with Prime Minister Netanyahu in Washington?
Well, I believe political leaders have to exercise leadership. I was rather disappointed that President Obama used language that was insulting to the Iranian people. I believe President Obama should, in fact, stick to his declared intention to deal with Iran on the basis of mutual respect. That’s what he said in his letter to the president. That’s what he said in his address to the General Assembly.
You do not deal with another state with mutual respect by threatening them, by trying to intimidate them, particularly when you know that that is not useful, that is not of any utility. As I said, the Iranian people react very, very negatively to such languages of threat and intimidation.
By Muhammad Sahimi, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Muhammad Sahimi is a professor at the University of Southern California and editor of the website Iran News & Middle East Reports. The views expressed are his own.
“Like resurrecting a corpse.” That was how noted journalist, documentary film maker and dissident Mohammad Nourizad described the landslide victory of Hassan Rouhani in Iran’s presidential election in June.
But although Rouhani has been trying to deliver on a pre-election pledge to make Iranians’ lives better by reviving another corpse, namely his country’s economy, it has been clear that his most pressing task is actually turning around relations with the U.S. And it’s something he will need America’s help to achieve.
Iran, just like Israel and the U.S., has vocal hardliners that reject any rapprochement. So it may have been an unpleasant surprise to them that Rouhani appointed the highly respected, U.S.-educated diplomat Mohammad Javad Zarif as foreign minister, transferred Iran’s nuclear dossier from the Supreme National Security Council (a body controlled by hardliners) to the Foreign Ministry and removed chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili in favor of Rear Admiral Ali Shamkhani, a moderate who was the minister of defense in the reformist administration of Mohammad Khatami. On top of this, Fereydoon Abbasi, an officer of the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps and the conservative head of Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, was replaced with Ali Akbar Salehi, a pragmatic former foreign minister and MIT-educated nuclear engineer.
By Rep. Trent Franks, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Congressman Trent Franks (R-AZ) is a senior member of the Armed Services Committee. The views expressed are his own.
Oh to be a fly on the wall when the U.S. president and Israeli prime minister met to discuss Iran.
In recent weeks, much talk has been tossed around about a new, moderate Iranian leader and the potential for deals to be made on the nuclear front. Some pundits have likened this approach to trusting a wolf in sheep's clothing; I'd say we're looking at a nuke wrapped in cashmere.
Less than six days after giving a speech in front of the U.N. that seemed to reinforce the naïve and misinformed belief that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani represents a shift away from the radical nature of past Iranian regimes, President Obama then met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Of the dozens to choose from, I wonder which of Iran's international violations the two leaders discussed first.
The Obama administration has a long record of misjudging foreign policy realities. This shortsightedness has led to numerous failures – among them Egypt, Libya, Benghazi, and, most recently, Syria – that have cost innocent lives, compromised the United States' position in the world, and threatened our own national security and that of our allies. We must achieve a better result in our policies with Iran.
By Fareed Zakaria
In theory, it's possible to devise a rational process that requires concrete actions from Iran, verifiable checks by inspectors, and then a reciprocal easing of sanctions by the United States. But that would require Congress to behave in a rational manner – which is clearly a fantasy today. The most likely scenario is that any agreement with Iran – almost regardless of its content – would instantly be denounced by Republicans as a sell-out.
The Obama administration is conscious of this other side of American government. Much of the macho rhetoric emanating from the administration about Iran has seemed designed to inoculate it from charges of being soft. The reality is that it remains unclear whether Iran can say yes to a nuclear deal – and it remains equally unclear whether the United States could say yes as well. Rouhani and Obama are probably each looking at the other and thinking the same thing: Can he deliver?
Watch the full interview on "Fareed Zakaria GPS," this Sunday at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN
Fareed speaks with Ciamak Morsadegh, the only Jewish member of parliament in Iran.
Do you feel, as a Jew in Iran, do you feel persecuted in any way?
Of course. Being a Jewish minority in a religious country has some problems. But after the revolution, step by step, our problems are being solved. Today, our condition is better than yesterday. And today, our condition is much better than 10 years or 20 years ago.
Are you allowed to worship freely, go to synagogue, observe religious days and occasions?
For religious freedom, Iran is one of the most free countries. You can go to synagogue. We can have our ceremonies. We have kosher butchery. In Tehran, there is more than 10 kosher butcheries, five kosher restaurants. We have our specific school. There is today more than five Jewish schools in Tehran, and our children are completely free to go to Jewish school or public school.
CNN speaks with Fareed and International Correspondent Reza Sayah, currently based in Iran, about the phone call President Obama had with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Friday. This is an edited version of the transcript.
The good money obviously is always on skepticism whenever we hear of two parties that have been at such loggerheads for so many decades. But this was a remarkable announcement by the president. Whether or not it pans out, of course, that is another matter.
Zakaria: Oh, of course. This is the first time since 1979 that the leaders of the two countries have talked. I think part of what was going on here, of course, was President Rouhani, I would guess, was trying to kind of reassure the administration that he has enough control over his government and his policy that he can actually make contact with the president of the United States without having to check back home with Tehran with the hard-liners and such.
So, I think it was progress in that sense as well. Maybe there's some consternation back in Tehran, but it demonstrates that the president of Iran does have the ability to make those kind of decisions, which is important, because ultimately neither side is going to get exactly what they want in this deal.
And the question is, on both sides – President Obama, President Rouhani – can they deliver? Can they get their countries to accept a deal that's 80 percent of what you want, but not 100 percent?
Fareed speaks with National Security Advisor Susan Rice about President Obama’s phone call on Friday with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
Susan Rice, can you give us a sense of how this phone call happened, who called whom?
I think, as many people know, we had indicated earlier in the week, an openness to a brief, informal encounter when President Obama was in New York at the General Assembly. And while we were open to that, the Iranians indicated that it was complicated for them in their context and so it didn’t occur.
Today, somewhat surprisingly, we were contacted by them to say that President Rouhani would like to speak to Pres. Obama on the telephone on his way out of town, and we were able to make that call come together and it was a constructive conversation.
How long was that call?
About 15 minutes, but of course, with translation, it was a brief call, but sufficient to convey messages from both sides.
Was it friendly or businesslike?
I’d say cordial and constructive. Obviously when you have two leaders from two countries that haven’t communicated at that level for almost 35 years, it’s something of a groundbreaking event. But they both conveyed their commitment to try and explore in a constructive manner the diplomatic path. We’ve made very clear, and the president has long re-iterated – including this week at the General Assembly – that the United States will not tolerate Iran with a nuclear weapon.
But our strong preference is that this problem be resolved through diplomatic means. And obviously as a consequence of international pressure, the international community being united – of course the sanctions and the economic pressure, and the election of President Rouhani – there is an opportunity now to test the proposition of that diplomatic settlement.
By Fareed Zakaria
U.S. doubts about Rouhani’s power can be addressed only over time and through Iranian actions. But Iranians probably also have doubts — about Obama’s power. After all, the new Iranian president appears willing to cooperate on the nuclear issue in return for a relaxing of the sanctions crippling his country. But can Obama provide any such relief?
Iran has dozens of layers of sanctions arrayed against it. Some are based on U.N. Security Council resolutions, others are decisions by the European Union, others are acts of Congress and still others are executive orders by the U.S. president. Obama can unilaterally lift only the last, which are the least burdensome. The most onerous by far are the sanctions passed through acts of Congress, and those will be the most difficult to lift.
CNN speaks with Fareed about President Barack Obama’s speech at the United Nations, and what it says about U.S.-Iran ties.
Obama said: "We are encouraged that President Rouhani received from the Iranian people a mandate to pursue a more moderate course given President Rouhani's stated commitment to reach an agreement. I am directing John Kerry to pursue this effort with the Iranian government in coordination with others."
That was a significant development given the long three decades history between these two countries.
It was a significant development. And he pointed out that they had heard encouraging words from the Supreme Leader, from the president. He also reciprocated by talking about how he wanted to deal with Iran with mutual respect. This is a phrase that Iranians have often used. I think it was carefully chosen by the president.
The Iranians have often said we want you to treat us with respect. We don't like the idea of being told, for example, that there are carrots and sticks as part of the policy. We are not an animal. We are a great nation. So Obama tried, it seemed to me, to mirror the kind of language the Iranians want to hear that accords them some respect.
What I was struck by was this was not a speech, though, designed to make headlines. Both the things you pointed out were the parts that made news, but by and large it was really using the bully pulpit of the United Nations to educate people about what America's policy and what its interests are, particularly in the Middle East. He laid it out methodically, acknowledging criticism, reminding people why the United States had done certain things in Egypt, done certain things in Libya.
CNN speaks with Fareed and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani about the apparent softening in Iran’s rhetoric under new President Hassan Rouhani. This is an edited version of the transcript.
What do you think of the changes going on in Iran? Clearly it seems like President Hassan Rouhani is certainly a lot different at least in tone than Ahmadinejad?
Giuliani: No question, the tone is completely different. The question is, is this credible or is this just a way of buying time so they can continue to either enrich uranium or maybe even stop that for a while.
Do you think it's credible?
Giuliani: I begin by being very skeptical because of the history, because they played us for a fool before, Rouhani actually even bragging about it. I have to look at that history and say, there’s a really good chance they’re doing it again. At the same time, you can go ahead and talk to them and you can go ahead and try to test this out and see is there a change.
But the main thing is you better be ready not to make any concessions until they deliver the goods. I would want to make sure there was a verification program in place. That we actually began the verification program and knew they were going to let us go inspect these facilities.
Then when we got to that point we felt they were really delivering, we could start talking about reducing the sanctions. Because I do think this is not a function of whatever happened in Syria, I think this is a function of the sanctions.
Fareed, with Rouhani, do you believe there is a real difference? Do you believe this is a significant change?
Zakaria: Look, I think these are very promising signs. You have to test it. They have in the past had a strategy of talking and not delivering. Here’s what’s different this time. Rouhani campaigned on this idea of being able to make a deal with the West so that he could ease the sanctions. Clearly the sanctions are what are behind this and they feel the pain.
There are the makings of a deal. You want to test it and make it step by step. You don’t want to make the concessions before they allow the inspections. What gives me some hope is that Rouhani, unlike Ahmadinejad, is an insider. He’s known the Supreme Leader since 1980. He has worked within this establishment. He’s a cleric.