Matthew Bryza: Iran and West not ready to restore relations

Matthew Bryza: Iran and West not ready to restore relations

Neither Iran nor the West are ready for active restoration of economic and political relations, the former US Assistant Secretary for the South Caucasus, former US ambassador to Azerbaijan, Matthew Bryza, said in an interview to Vestnik Kavkaza, answering questions about the immediate prospects of the resumption of contacts between the Islamic Republic and the Western countries after the lifting of sanctions against Iran.

For example, he noted that the US is not ready for normalization of relations with Iran. "The nuclear-related sanctions that were just lifted pertained only to non-US persons and organizations, and all US sanctions pertaining to US citizens and companies remain in place. These sanctions aim to persuade the Iranian government to end its support for terrorism abroad and to improve its human rights record at home. US-Iran relations will remain difficult unless and until Iran changes the policies that prompted the US sanctions," the diplomat said.

There are also problems in Iran's approach to the restoration of relations with the West. "Of course, European countries and companies are eager to take advantage of the new business opportunities in Iran. While such opportunities are indeed extensive, it will take some time for Iran to adapt its own way of thinking to these new opportunities. After all, before the recently-lifted sanctions related to Iran’s nuclear weapons program were in place, it was difficult for European companies to do business in Iran because of Iran’s business practices. The energy sector was particularly difficult, with Iran not allowing for the type of production-sharing agreements that Azerbaijan has embraced and used to attract huge amounts of foreign direct investment to its energy sector. But, if Iran changes its behavior with regard to business as well as support for terrorism, sectarianism, and Islamist extremism, the entire world will be better off," Bryza believes.

The former ambassador to Azerbaijan has warned that relations between Tehran and Baku remain ambiguous after the lifting of sanctions. "Tensions between Azerbaijan and Iran have decreased over the past few years, after reaching a disturbing level in 2010 to 2011. But Iran’s complicated internal political situation may become even more complicated, as hardliners react against the efforts of President Rouhani and other supporters of the nuclear agreement. This could lead to re-intensification of Iran’s previous efforts to stoke Islamist extremism in Azerbaijan and elsewhere, and to aggravate sectarian division, as is currently the case in Yemen and Syria," the US diplomat expects.

He also reacted cautiously to Iran's initiative to engage in the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. "The mediators of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict need to be impartial. It is generally accepted, especially by the United Nations, that to ensure impartiality, mediators of a conflict should be neither parties nor neighboring states to that conflict. Of course, the OSCE violated this principle by including Russia as a Minsk Group Co-Chair. Adding another neighboring country, such as Iran, to the mix of mediators will not increase the prospects of success for the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement," Matthew Bryza predicts.