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What Netanyahu wants is Iran's surrender, not negotiated nuclear deal

Published time: November 23, 2013 14:43

General view on November 20, 2013 showing Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (2ndR) and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton (3rdR) meeting with international officials at the start of closed-door nuclear talks in Geneva. (AFP Photo)

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The deal that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants the international community to strike with Tehran is basically an Iranian surrender, not a proper agreement, John Limbert, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Iran, tells RT.

RT:  You were the highest-ranking diplomat dealing solely with Iranian issues. Given your expertise, do you see a real chance that a deal can be made?

John Limbert: I do, but it is going to take time, and it is going to take lots of patience. The rule on these things is whatever you’re going to do is going to take longer than you think. And it is going to be harder than you think.

RT: We're talking about many years of hostility, 30-plus years of very little other than insults. You've likened the diplomacy between the two countries to the land of Narnia: always winter, never Christmas. If no agreement is reached, can a reset of these relations even be possible?

JL: Well, I think what everybody needs to do is to take a deep breath, step back a few steps and look at where we and the Iranians are compared to where we were four to five months ago. For 34 years, as you noted, we and the Iranians did nothing but trade insults and threats with each other. Now we're talking seriously, this is a major achievement, or possible achievement, but reaching an agreement at the end of the day means putting aside all of the hostility, all of the suspicion. Because lurking in the background is this idea that if I say yes to what they propose, maybe just I’m being cheated.

RT: We know that despite international efforts to strike a deal, US lawmakers are threatening new sanctions against Iran. Does this threaten the thaw in relations between the two?

JL: Of course, you have people on both sides who, for whatever reason, are going to oppose any change in the status quo. Status quo, whatever else you say about it, is comfortable, it’s familiar. My own view is that it does not serve the interest of either side in this dispute and should be changed and is changing. But there is going to be resistance. That, on our side, is a job of the president and the administration to lead a change, which is clearly going to be in the national interest.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (R) chats with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton at the start of closed-door nuclear talks in Geneva on November 20, 2013. (AFP Photo)

RT: Well, the president and the administration aside, if a deal is reached will lawmakers in Washington still pursue more sanctions?

JL: That is a good question. Sanctions resolutions have been an unfortunate history, not just with regard to Iran, but in general. If they come to a vote, they usually get overwhelming support. The question is, does the president, does the executive branch have the flexibility, have the option to pursue them 100 percent, 50 percent, 25 percent or not at all? Remember, I believe that sanctions against the former Soviet Union stayed in place sometime as much as 20 years after the former Soviet Union disappeared.

RT: In your opinion, have the European sanctions proven effective against Tehran?

JL: It is a question of what is effective. I’ve heard people say that “the sanctions worked because we are seeing a different diplomatic approach from Tehran." In logic you need to distinguish between what you know to be true and what you wish to be true. And this is the case of I think people wishing it to be true and making it true. Yes, the Iranian economy is in bad shape – that is true. Is it because of the sanctions? Maybe, but we really don’t know. I’ve never seen any evidence of it. There are strong indications that there are other factors, particularly economic mismanagement, that have led to the economic problems that undoubtedly exist.

RT: France was accused of blocking the deal by introducing new conditions. Do you think Paris will soften its stance this time?

JL: There I’m going to take the diplomatic way out – you really have to talk to the French about this. But speaking of the French, wasn’t it Napoleon who said, “May all my enemies be coalitions”? Coalitions are notoriously difficult to deal with, and notoriously difficult to keep together. 

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (R) smiles next to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton (2nd L) on November 20, 2013 at the start of closed-door nuclear talks in Geneva. (AFP Photo)  

RT: Israel is strongly opposed to the current deal. If a consensus is reached, how likely is it to disrupt ties between Israel and the US?

JL: At the end of the day I don’t think it is going to. It is a strong relationship. It is a long and very deep relationship. As I understand it, what my Israeli friends tell me, that within Israel itself there is a lot of controversy over the issue of Iran and what should the Israeli stand be. Some of the extreme stands that are coming out, which oppose any deal, are creating concern in Israel. A lot of people have been criticizing the Prime Minister. What Prime Minister Netanyahu seems to be asking for is not a negotiated deal, but in fact an Iranian surrender where they are pressured into simply giving up. That's not a negotiation, that's a surrender. And if you do squeeze somebody so hard, and they surrender, such an agreement isn't going to last. Both sides have to believe that they've got something out of the negotiated deal.

RT:
So, aside from these one-on-one relationships, how will the outcome of these talks impact the international community's relations with Iran?

JL: It's been a back-and-forth between Iran and the international community. For 34 years, Iran has seemed to lurch from one extreme to the other. At one point, it talks about being part of the international community, it wants to join the international community, and then it goes out and does something such as overrun an embassy, whether it's a US embassy in 1979, or, more recently, the British embassy – that calls that intention into question. What we've seen, I think, in the last three or four months, since the election of President Rouhani and since some of the statements of the Supreme Leader, I think it's a serious change of direction in terms of joining the international community – because when Iran talks and puts up the brave front about not needing the international community, in fact I think after 34 years they find that they do.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.