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Oman mediation and Iran’s return to the diplomatic path

Author: Oraib Al Rantawi

Source: Middel East Monitor

Date: 2018-08-01

The flow of American statements confirming its desire for unconditional dialogue with Iran hasn’t stopped. The president and his senior aides haven’t stopped talking about their desire and willingness to immediately start new negotiations with the Iranian leadership regarding the nuclear and missile programmes and Iran’s regional role, unconditionally, at any time and place that Iran wants.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the spokesman for the National Security Agency were more specific when they spoke about the need to change the behaviour of the Iranian regime, both at home and abroad, and to show willingness to open the nuclear agreement to negotiations once again. They made promises and pledges to lift sanctions and resume full bilateral relations with Iran, but on the other hand, they did not hesitate to direct a wave of threats of more unprecedented measures against them.

Meanwhile, Iran’s officials haven’t spoken about anything recently but this. It did, however, demand that the Americans “return to the nuclear agreement”, which it withdrew from unilaterally, as a precondition for accepting dialogue and negotiation with the Trump administration.

Iran Deal - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

It is as if we are in the process of preparing for both sides to climb down from the two high trees they climbed up. The United States, which is talking about “unconditional dialogue”, has given up on the condition of Iran’s willingness to abandon its nuclear and missile programmes and even its regional role, while Iran is talking about only one condition to resume negotiations: the return to the nuclear agreement. By doing so, it has abandoned its past rejection to link the nuclear and missile programmes together, considering th

e missiles programme non-negotiable, and its refusal to discuss its role in the region with Washington.

At this point, it seems that the Sultanate of Oman, which has successively played the role of “mediator” between Washington and Tehran, including mediation over the “nuclear programme”, is resuming its active role these days. It is relying on its accumulated experience in negotiating the paths between the two rival capitals. As for the movement on the road between the two rival capitals, Foreign Minister Yusuf Bin Alawi Bin Abdullah knows his way around this and knows when to get involved, when to present his proposals, and when to step aside.

There is no doubt that the Omani minister’s visit to Washington and the lengthy talks focused on the possibility of resuming mediation. Washington needs to know what is going on in the minds of Iranian leaders, while the Iranians are interested in knowing the next American steps before they occur and exploring the future of relations between their country and the greatest country in the world. This is especially true since many trusted sources have agreed that Iran has greatly begun to suffer from the new American sanctions, even before they have come into effect. They also stated that the “milk and honey” promises that accompanied signing the nuclear agreement with the international community have disappeared or are in the process of doing so.

Iran will deny that the Omani minister has been ordered to set up a secret back channel to negotiate with Washington, as it has before. Washington may deny this at a certain stage before it becomes clear that both sides were interested in this mediation and even wanted to move it along.

Cartoon of President Trump ripping Iran's Nuclear deal [Twitter]Trump will not return to the nuclear agreement. This is an issue that is at the heart of the president and his administration’s personal and political calculations, and Iran should be well aware of this. I think the Omani foreign minister is also aware of this. Moreover, Tehran will not agree to abandon the nuclear deal until it reaches something better and more comprehensive. This is something all the parties are aware of. Therefore, we may see an inclusive negotiations channel that enables the parties to announce a “win-win” agreement, like that in Vienna in the past. The new agreement will have to give Trump enough to save face and concrete evidence that he is a better and tougher negotiator than his predecessor, Barack Obama. The agreement would also have to give Iran what it needs to say that it got a similar agreement, perhaps better than the one that preceded it, and this time with Washington itself, and the rest of the world will join the deal if it is made.

This is no doubt a difficult task for any mediator, but it is not impossible, especially with the presence of an unpredictable US president, obsessed with his ability to make miracles happen. This is also true given the increasing pressure on the Iranian regime, from home and abroad. It seems that the Iranian nuclear file may soon be placed on the diplomatic track and it seems that the joy of some Gulf Arabs with the emerging positions of Washington in the Trump era, will not last long. Perhaps along with their joy, the state of celebration and merriment that overshadowed Netanyahu and his cabinet will also not last long.