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Middle East

Teltschik: Policy of detente could work with Iran

Horst Teltschik, a former security consultant to the German chancellor, says it's in Iran's interest to agree to disagree with the West. He has called for Iran to be invited to the upcoming Syria peace talks.

DW: Mr. Teltschik, the nuclear deal with Iran is still seen as very controversial - in the US, but also internationally. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called it a "historic mistake," while "The New York Times" has said it will open new strategic options in the Middle East. What do you think?

Horst Teltschik: The domestic situation in Iran and developments outside its borders have changed dramatically. Sanctions against Iran have proven effective: the new president must spur economic development for his citizens if he wants to avoid any further demonstrations and unrest. And the developments in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon could result in substantial turbulence that won't leave Iran unaffected. In addition, the West's extensive troop withdrawal from Afghanistan is opening a new and dangerous front for the Iranians. They need to reorient themselves.

What exactly could happen in these countries that would have an influence on Iran?

In the Middle East, we have a power struggle between Saudi Arabia and the Sunnis on one side, and Iran and the Shiites on the other. This has lead to further destabilization in Iraq. In addition, there's Syria. Will Iran's closest partner, [Syrian President Bashar] Assad, survive? At the same time, there's a danger of further division in Lebanon. The worst case scenario would be that Syria, Lebanon and Iraq fail as states. And that certainly makes Iranians nervous. I believe it's in Iran's interest to find a modus vivendi with the West on the nuclear issue. And I don't rule out the possibility that they want to have the Americans invite them to participate as a partner at the Syria peace conference.

U.S. President Barack Obama makes a statement about an agreement reached with Iran on its nuclear program at the White House in Washington November 23, 2013. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS) (eingestellt von qu)

Obama called the deal with Iran an important first step

Let's take a closer look at the Geneva agreement, which has been negotiated with a six-month deadline. President Obama has called it an important first step. His secretary of state, John Kerry, has said it will make the region safer. Is this deal really that airtight?

We now have half a year to test that. The Iranians have gone so far as to allow daily inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). The IAEA is now able to inspect virtually any nuclear facility on any day within the next six months, without prior notice. Israel's suspicion is that Iran has concealed nuclear development sites. This, unfortunately, cannot be ruled out.

Personally, I'm of the opinion that Iran has reached the point where they know they can build a nuclear weapon, if they so choose. I've always had the impression that this was their primary objective: that they know they're able to do so, without having to build an actual weapon. This could explain why Iran is now ready to accept an agreement with the West.

What do you say to the concerns of Israel and the Gulf states? Their fear is that a deal with Iran, which has been known to support terrorist groups in the region, has been made at the expense of their safety.

Israel aims to remain the only nuclear power in the Middle East. This is understandable, but ultimately - as we see in the case of Iran - not enforceable. Incidentally, we didn't enforce this with Pakistan and India. Both became nuclear powers, and we were not in favor. In the end, the Americans even agreed to cooperate with India on nuclear issues. In addition, I must point out that even the Saudis support terrorist groups: the Salafists in Egypt and Tunisia, and radical Islamist groups in Syria. This is just as much a threat to peace for the Israelis as anything else.

After six months, the plan is to come to a general agreement. What could that look like?

The US seems willing to accept that Iran retain some ability to enrich uranium. Earlier, there was a Russian proposal that no enrichment would be allowed in Iran itself, that it would only take place outside the country. This Russian proposal should be brought back to the table.

Protesters gather at Tahrir square in Cairo November 23, 2012. Angry youths hurled rocks at security forces and burned a police truck as thousands gathered in central Cairo to protest at Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi's decision to grab sweeping new powers. Police fired tear gas near Tahrir Square, heart of the 2011 uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak at the height of the Arab Spring. Thousands demanded that Mursi should quit and accused him of launching a coup. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany (EGYPT - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST)

Teltschik says the US has not had a clear Middle East strategy after the Arab Spring

Some members of the US Congress have sharply criticized the nuclear deal with Iran, and there's a strong movement to tighten the sanctions. What do you think of this reaction?

I look back at the European experience during the Cold War. NATO reconsidered the politics of confrontation and sanctions against the former Soviet Union in 1967. This strategy of dialogue and cooperation, later known as the policy of detente, was successful in the end. Why would such an approach not work with Iran?

What role did the Europeans, and especially the Germans, play in the deal? Were they able to build trust and serve as an important link between the two sides? And what they could do in the future?

It would be nice if it were so. But, at least in the last few years, it wasn't been apparent that Germany was taking on a special role to broker the detente between Iran and the West.

"The New York Times" has written that an accord with Iran would give Obama more geopolitical breathing room than any president since Jimmy Carter. Do you agree with this statement?

If it's true, the question is whether Obama would actually take advantage of this breathing room. The disappointment in the president is great. In his first term, he gave great speeches and raised hopes that he had a clear strategy for the Arab world. But when you look at the Arab Spring, I don't get the impression that there's a strategy of how to deal with these countries after the "Spring" is over - and in the meantime, it's now autumn. Incidentally, the Europeans also don't have a strategy. But if the Iranians are ready to reopen relations with the US after such an agreement, then it could lead to a new stability in the region. In terms of the Geneva peace conference, that would mean that Iran also be invited to participate. This is essential.

Horst Teltschik was the security adviser to former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and also served as chief organizer of the Munich Security Conference.

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