WASHINGTON — On the eve of nuclear negotiations in Geneva, an Iranian document surfaced that sheds light on Tehran’s likely strategy at the talks: to separate and isolate the United States from its European allies in the P5+1 in order to break the international consensus enforcing strict sanctions on Iran.
The document, titled “Program for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for a Rouhani Government,” was released by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on August 7, four days after President Hassan Rouhani’s inauguration. Originally distributed to Iranian media outlets, the diplomatic playbook was later posted on the Iranian Foreign Ministry’s website.
Iran expert and Washington Institute for Near East Policy affiliate Steven Ditto translated the document for English-speaking audiences, and says that the strategy of isolating the US from Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China – the other members of the P5+1 – is “in line with Rouhani’s extensive writings.”
The document describes the “short-medium-term operational strategy” for nuclear talks and says that as part of the strategy, Iran will “change the global security environment” by “breaking the coordination of major powers and neutralizing the Zionist-American efforts to build an international consensus against Iran.” The strategy specifically hopes to “neutralize the leverage of America and the Zionist regime with countries and multilateral institutions vis-a-vis Iran.”
Since 2006, the international community – led by US initiatives – has worked through the International Atomic Energy Association (IAEA) and the United Nations Security Council to reach consensus on international sanctions in response to Iran’s nuclear program.
Ditto, who recently published a Washington Institute study examining Rouhani’s previous political positions, publications and rhetoric, believes that such a strategy is consistent with the Iranian leader’s positions in the past. As early as December 2003, Rouhani wrote that a “foundational principle” in Iranian foreign relations is to “prevent compatibility and consensus between America and other world powers — especially Europe, Russia, and China — over Iran.”
He also notes that in Rouhani’s 2011 memoir, the former nuclear negotiator described this strategy as “creating gaps in the Western front.” Ditto writes that the strategy was “originally conceived to keep Europe from referring Iran’s nuclear case to the UN Security Council.” Although Iran was eventually referred to the UNSC, it seems likely that the same strategy is being employed as talks begin in Geneva.
The independent scholar notes that since August, Rouhani has met with four of the six P5+1 leaders, only missing meetings with British Prime Minister David Cameron and US President Barack Obama. He believes that “Rouhani’s growing clout was especially manifested in his exchange with Italian prime minister Enrico Letta, who publicly lamented that Italy had no role in the P5+1 despite being a “bridge between Iran and the West,” only to be reassured by Rouhani who “mentioned the possibility of a P5+2.”
“All of those countries that have a certain influence over the nuclear program should take part in the negotiations, with Italy at the top of the list… Some people do not want the 5+2 group,” Rouhani said at a September 28 press conference.
Letta, in return, said that when Italy assumes the rotating EU presidency in 2014, it will “try its utmost to further strengthen Rome-Tehran ties.”
Ditto believes that “both Zarif’s August strategy document and Rouhani’s recent and past rhetoric suggest that any new US-Iranian negotiations will be tough, with Tehran focusing on how to gain advantage rather than finding areas of common interest.” Observers, he says, should look for attempts by Iran to divide the P5+1 and isolate the Americans.