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New Iran talks – this time with some antipodean assistance?

BBC correspondent James Reynolds says Iran nuclear issue talks in Geneva in 2010, and Istanbul in January 2011 “were essentially parallel monologues.”

Antipodean Village Blogger writes:

It is good news that at last, and again, Iran and six major world powers have agreed to have talks about Iran’s nuclear power development program.

These powers, the five permanent UN Security Council members (the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China) plus Germany have met with Iran before. On the last occasion, just over a year ago, no progress was made. The situation has now deteriorated more seriously with a combination of stronger sanctions on Iran and Israeli plans to bomb its nuclear installations that are being talked up more strongly than ever by the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Iran insists that its nuclear development program is simply for civilian purposes, but Western powers and Israel say they fear it is constructing nuclear weapons.

The Iranian negotiator Saeed Jalili sent a letter last month to the European Union, which has taken on a brokering role, proposing talks. Its foreign policy head, Catherine Ashton, replied positively on behalf of the six nations and support for them has been confirmed by US President Obama.

Several blogs have been written on this website supporting dialogue with Iran, and proposing several ways in which New Zealand could play constructive roles.

High global and regional stakes & need for meaningful negotiations

At stake is Middle East peace and the oil on which the world economy very much depends. About 20% of the world’s oil supply travels through the Straits of Hormuz that run alongside Iran, and current tensions have brought the Brent crude price of oil to hover at about US$124 a barrel. War could send these prices, and with them a fragile world economy, out of control.

For talks to succeed this time around there are some communication blockages to be overcome.

As the BBC correspondent James Reynolds says of previous talks held in Geneva in December 2010, and Istanbul in January 2011, they could “barely be described as negotiations. They were essentially parallel monologues. Diplomats suggested there was little actual engagement, merely an exchange of prepared speeches.”

A gap for a constructive antipodean contribution

Such monologues of the mutually-deaf need to become dialogues in which the parties hear one another. This need could open up a space for a relative outside party like antipodean New Zealand to sound out the parties as to whether it could assist with some low-key communication-building.

For instance, it could offer to listen carefully to all of the individual respective parties, after which it might sound them out on some of the issues, concerns and questions and responses of the others. Such a process could help build up more mutual understanding and help to identify ways through that might not otherwise be evident.

If the parties found this exercise useful, New Zealand might also be welcomed as an observer at the actual talks, and in a position then to continue with such consultations afterwards to help keep any positive momentum on track.

New Zealand universities could also study the process and begin to develop track 2 diplomatic support for this, and other, Middle East peace processes.

But where’s the money coming from?

At the moment, the New Zealand government is putting its Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade through a major cost and staff-cutting exercise. It would almost certainly be objected that the kind of exercise proposed here will cost money that cannot be afforded.

If the offer to engage proposed here were to be accepted, it should not be particularly expensive, particularly when weighed up against the massive cost already to the New Zealand and many other economies of oil at well over $100 a barrel and, if the talks fail, a potentially astronomical rocketing of costs.

As mentioned in previous Village-Connections blogs, New Zealand already has diplomatic representation in all of the relevant parts of the world, and this would give its diplomats something particularly worthwhile to do that could be greatly appreciated by many. It would also enable the New Zealand government to build very high-level connections with the world’s largest powers and help to raise its profile where international news spotlights are shining their beam.

A note on where money could come from – and where it won’t

As far as money is concerned, I believe New Zealand would become, in the words of Foreign Minister Murray McCully last October, “more successful in conducting trade and economic partnerships” if it first paused to ask a very important question.

That is, what would be the very best ways to build mutually-valued connections with the rest of the region and the world?

Then the New Zealand government would do well by the nation, and itself, if it preceded any serious foreign policy budget changes with some imaginative foreign policy scenario-building exercises. These would look closely at the opportunities that New Zealand could open up as a small, multicultural, Pacific, and independent nuclear-free nation, geographically-remote from the major power-centers and trouble-spots of the world, and says it wants to be internationally engaged.

How could New Zealand leverage these factors in a world that is becoming increasingly interdependent while faced also being faced with many problems and unfulfilled possibilities that need to be better defined and worked through?

What valuable and potentially widely-valued diplomatic, environmental, information and other international brokering services might New Zealand develop and offer?

What about looking into what could be done with Pacific Fibre chief executive Mark Rushworth’s amazing vision for a New Zealand that, “politically safe and neutral … would be a fantastic location for data centres between Asia and the United States”?

Such themes and possibilities have been continually explored, and will continue to be, on this website.

I would contend that creating a robust international-connections building platform would provide this country with a much stronger base for a flourishing economy than would a neoliberal-driven platform on which a diminished and demoralized cadre of diplomats fronted for a narrowly-focused nation that was known for knowing, in the words of Oscar Wilde, the cost of everything and the value of nothing.

We can, and must, do much better.

Do you think New Zealand could or should take an active interest in the Iranian dispute and the wider world in general? How could it best do so? Could the proposals made in this blog work? Your views either way are most welcome. There is no need to register to make a comment below.

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