Perhaps the most significant aspect of the current round of negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 over Iran’s nuclear power is the fact that they are being held in Baghdad. This Arab capital cannot be considered a middle ground between both parties, but including Baghdad in Iran’s axis of power must be carefully considered.
It is surprising that Iran proposed Baghdad as the place where it will negotiate its nuclear program; but it is even more surprising that the P5+1 agreed to such a proposal. Sateh Noureddine writes that the choice of venue is Baghdad’s “golden opportunity” to rejoin the Middle East as a significant regional player.
Baghdad’s Golden Opportunity
May 24, 2012
May 24 2012
Surprisingly, during the last round of Istanbul’s negotiations in April, Iran specifically suggested Baghdad as a venue for the resumption of negotiations. Even more surprising was that the P5+1 immediately approved this suggestion. At the time, rumors were circulating that Iran wanted to punish Turkey for its position in the Syrian crisis. However, over the past few weeks the Turkish mediator has made a major breakthrough. Both parties are ready to reach a compromise over the nuclear dispute.
By choosing Baghdad as the locale for the new negotiations, Iran seems to imply that it has managed to drag the P5+1 into its sphere of influence. Most importantly, it wants clear international recognition of its influence in Iraq, in return for its nuclear concessions which have been made to lift the stifling international sanctions against Iran. In other words, one could suggest that Iran has been paid in advance. However, Iran has insisted that it chose the Iraqi capital as a way of confirming Iraq’s return to its normal regional role, which the latter reclaimed when it hosted the Arab summit in March.
Iran’s estimation of the situation is relatively on point. The US, however, is suggesting another scenario. US officials believe that Iraq is gaining ground due to its increasing oil production, which could hurt the Iranian economy. Iraq must adhere to international sanctions imposed on Iran, so it cannot really be seen as subject to Iran’s influence. Furthermore: until now, Iraq has been afraid to publicly confront Iran, but Iraq’s Shiite majority, as a religious or political power, has not been very friendly towards Iran. This is normal given the prior experience between the two countries. This is closely related to the current campaign against Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, and suggests that Iraqi-Iranian relations are likely to be strained in the future.
Moreover, if Baghdad witnesses a historic settlement between Iran and the West, the Iraqis would be the primary beneficiaries. The Iranians, on the other hand, would have to undergo a historical review of their foreign policy, one which they have been espousing ever since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. This would be a golden opportunity for Iraq to return to the forefront of the Middle East. That is, of course, if Iraqi officials play their cards right.
Baghdad has the right to be proud of such an opportunity, which is the result of Iranian nonchalance and the American and international need to settle the Iranian issue that has been lingering for over thirty years.