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Wasted opportunities in Iran’s nuke negotiations

Fresh from his trip to Vienna, Zarif returned to Iran to admit that “no tangible progress” has been made

Camelia Entekhabi-Fard

Published: Updated:

“Agreement is possible. But illusions need to go. Opportunity shouldn’t be missed again,” Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Twitter on Sunday May 18.

Fresh from his trip to Vienna, Zarif returned to Iran to admit that “no tangible progress” has been made during fourth round of negotiations with the P5+1 over Iran’s nuclear program. In spite of all the disappointment and negative reactions by Iran’s hardliner newspaper which mocked Iran’s negotiating team for being “too optimistic,” Zarif has insisted that reaching a final nuclear deal with world powers is still within doable.

Iran’s Arab neighbors have been waiting for a year to see if the new government of Hassan Rowhani would reach out to them

Camelia Entekhabi-Fard

On July 20, the interim deal under which Iran curbed uranium enrichment in return for the partial lifting of international sanctions is due to expire. It seems as though reaching the permanent deal in this short time can’t be achieved and the alternative is to extend the interim deal for another six months. The talks in Vienna broke up on Friday without any progress on drafting the final agreement. “The gaps were too large to begin drafting the text,” said Iran’s chief negotiator Abbas Araqchi, adding that “no tangible progress” had been made.

Still room for hope

While there is still room and hope for Iran and the P5+1 to narrow the gaps in order to reach an agreement, all engaged countries are aware of the importance of this deal. If the diplomatic efforts to solve Iran’s controversial nuclear program fail, fear of a military confrontation led by Israel or the United States could prevail.

People in this region understand the delicacy of time and the importance of this agreement in avoiding another confrontation in this area. But at the same time there is also fears that if the West reaches an agreement with Tehran, it means they would be letting Iran expand its regional meddling. This contradiction in the region comes from not knowing to what extent Iran would change its behavior toward regional issues and relations with the neighbors if it secures a comprehensive deal. It’s hard for many to read the regime’s hand and speculate their behavior in the post nuclear agreement era.

Mohammad Javad Zarif has been invited by Saudi Prince Saud al-Faisal, the country’s foreign minister, to visit Saudi Arabia. However, Iran said the written invitation has not reached yet. Regardless, the invitation announcement raised attention, which may finally see the two biggest regional powers decide to solve the regional issues and address them.

Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister Husain Amir Abdullahian said on May 14: “ We welcome negotiations and meetings to help solve regional conflicts, resolve misunderstandings and to expand bilateral relations.”

Expanding ties with Saudi Arabia

“Expanding ties with Saudi Arabia” has been always on President Rowhani’s agenda and was mentioned during his presidential campaign frequently. It’s been a year since Rowhani took office and of course the highest priority of his administration was given to the nuclear talks. Clearly the president and his team worked so hard to solve this controversial nuclear file and to get rid of the sanctions and improve the shattered economy and at the same time portray a better picture of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Internally, the president is facing lots of criticism from his supporters because of his ignorance towards issues such as human rights and freedom of expression. Iran still has the highest rank internationally for imprisoning the journalists and also for executions as capital punishment. These matters haven’t yet been addressed by the president. The only thing the government is interested in is the nuclear file!

Iran’s Arab neighbors have also been waiting for a year to see if the new government of Hassan Rowhani would reach out to them, especially Saudi Arabia. Iran’s nuclear talks have continued without engaging other regional powers who have been constantly told that their nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

Even though good and strong support from regional powers could finalize Iran’s agreement with the P5+1, Arab states do not know what will come “out of the box” if Iran reach a comprehensive deal with the West.

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Camelia Entekhabi-Fard is a journalist, news commentator and writer who grew up during the Iranian Revolution and wrote for leading reformist newspapers. She is also the author of Camelia: Save Yourself by Telling the Truth - A Memoir of Iran. She lives in New York City and Dubai. She can be found on Twitter: @CameliaFard

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.