Time to Talk (Properly) to Iran


On the sidelines of the Valdai conference in Malta, The Diplomat speaks with Abdullah Baabood, director of the Gulf Research Centre at Cambridge University, about Iran's nuclear programme.


Do you think sanctions are an effective way of dealing with concerns over Iran’s nuclear programme?

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I don’t think sanctions are going to work. For Iran, this is an issue of national pride. I believe the international community should talk with Iran and discuss with it its programme, its intentions, to see how we can all convince it not to follow a military option, and instead help it achieve its stated objective of civilian nuclear power. I don’t think international efforts should stop, but I don’t think sanctions are going to work to force Iran to change course, and they may even bolster the Iranian leadership position. I think dialogue, exchanges of views and probably helping them achieve a civilian programme would probably be more conducive.

So you’d like to see the US engage properly with Iran?

Certainly. Iran hasn’t always been at odds with the United States. Iran during the Shah was a close friend and ally and one part of the US policy in the Gulf. The US was relying on Iran as one of twin pillars, the other pillar being Saudi Arabia. Of course, since the Islamic Revolution, relations haven’t been friendly, but that doesn’t mean they have to continue on this trend.

I think the United States has an interest in talking to Iran, and I believe Iran also has an interest in talking to the US. At the moment there’s a problem of who’s going to start first, but I believe that finally they’ll have to talk and I think that can resolve many issues.

Iran needs to be comfortable as far as the United States’ intentions go, and the regime needs to be recognized as a regional power–and rightly so. Iran, on the other hand, also needs to re-establish its relationship with the international community, and so it can’t continue to be at odds with the United States. They may have issues that they don’t see eye to eye on, but it’s something they can try to iron out. I think in the end, the Iranian-American relationship is going to be conducive to rehabilitating Iran and bringing it back to the international community.

Do you think it’s inevitable that Iran will continue down the nuclear programme path that it’s now on?

I think that it’s inevitable that it will go for the full enrichment programme. They’ll most likely want to achieve at least the capability of producing nuclear arms, which they believe will add a lot to their international status and their position as a regional power. Whether they’ll go all the way toward producing a bomb, though, is questionable. I do hope that they don’t and that the international community will be able to find a solution. But they believe they have a right to enrich and to have their own nuclear technology that’s not dependent on outside powers and outside supply. And as long as they do that under international supervision and scrutiny, and with the intention of it being civilian power, I think the world should be able to work with them.

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