It's Time to Abandon Posturing on Iran

Seven former European ambassadors to Tehran: With a 10-year delay after Europe's lead, the United States and Iran are finally committed to serious talks. But they must move fast.

François Nicoullaud
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We, a group of seven European ambassadors, have all lived and worked in Iran for several years during the last decade. We are convinced that the current nuclear negotiations between Tehran and the six countries representing the international community can advance not only the cause of nonproliferation and stability in the Middle East, but also the everyday well-being of all the people in the region.

The direction these negotiations take will determine whether Iran’s own situation will become even worse and its behavior more extreme, or whether it will make progress in welfare, civil liberties and human rights.

It is true that over the years the Iranian nuclear imbroglio has been a major impediment to any positive evolution both within Iran and its relations internationally. The most recent round of negotiations in Geneva showed that, while all players are conscious of this and that each side claims an intention to escape from the deadlock, the hardest work lies ahead. Past experiences have left a deep divide of mutual mistrust between the parties; all sides should accept that trust is seldom present at the outset of negotiations but is a by-product of clear and verifiable agreements, faithfully implemented. If the parties can reach a good agreement and abide scrupulously by it, trust will blossom.

A good agreement is built on compromises. But it must also preserve essentials. For the international community, the critical point of the Iranian issue is that there be an impassable barrier to weapons proliferation. For Iran, it lies in international recognition of its right to implement the main technologies of a major civilian nuclear program. These two goals are legitimate.

If the negotiators were to fail to forge an agreement on these bases, they would prejudice the future of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Non-Proliferation Treaty. These two cardinal instruments of world peace hold the keys to the solution of the Iranian nuclear crisis. To be faithful to those who have given them life and shape over the years, today’s negotiators have a duty to succeed.

And they should move fast, for at least three reasons. First, they would be well advised not to prolong needlessly the hardships inflicted on the Iranian people by international and bilateral sanctions. Second, it would be wise to alleviate as soon as possible by a good agreement the sincere and deep concerns of neighboring peoples, as in Israel and several Arab countries, about unchecked development of the Iranian nuclear program. Third, it would be good tactics to outpace those who, for various but converging motives, have started to mobilize in order to thwart any agreement with Iran.

Addressing ourselves to the Europeans who have been working on this issue for 10 years, to the Americans who have at long last determined to take diplomacy in hand, and to the Iranians who have now set out seriously on the path of negotiation, we ask everyone to abandon posturing and time-wasting once and for all. We encourage you to negotiate firmly, concretely and with a full intention to succeed. You cannot afford to disappoint the people of the region and beyond. They expect too much from you for that.

Seven European former ambassadors to Iran, who have developed a common approach to Iran and its international relations, wrote this op-ed. They are Richard Dalton (United Kingdom), ambassador 2002-2006; Christofer Gyllenstierna (Sweden) 2003-2007; Paul von Maltzahn (Germany) 2003-2006; Guillaume Metten (Belgium) 1999-2003; François Nicoullaud (France) 2001-2005; Leopoldo Stampa (Spain) 2000-2004 and 2008-2011; and Roberto Toscano (Italy)2003-2008.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif ahead of closed-door nuclear talks at the United Nations offices in Geneva, October 15, 2013.Credit: Reuters