Nuclear negotiators: What role did other world powers play in talks with Iran?

The recently concluded nuclear talks with Iran were much more than a negotiation with just the United States. Plenty of other countries in Western Europe and Asia also played a part, but to what extent? Gary Sick, a former National Security Council official and now a senior research scholar and adjunct professor at Columbia University, joins Hari Sreenivasan to discuss.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    We wanted to spend a few minutes tonight talking about an aspect of the recently concluded nuclear talks with Iran that you might have heard much less about.

    We're referring to the role other countries involved in the talks from Western Europe played in the negotiations, and also the roles played by Russia and China. And another question, what will a tentative deal mean for all of them?

    For more, we are joined now by Gary Sick. He served as National Security Council staff under Presidents Ford, Carter and Reagan.

    He was the principal White House aide for Iran during the Iranian Revolution and the hostage crisis, and is the author of two books on U.S.-Iran relations. He now teaches international affairs at Columbia University.

    So, it is still constructed as a conversation between the United States and Iran. And we — today, the news cycle is primarily about fact sheets and what are the differences. But there were other parties at the table, and they were integral to this happening.

  • GARY SICK, Columbia University:

    Yes, it's a funny thing, because, well, the reason that the U.S. is so important is, the U.S. had vetoed deals in the past.

    So, without us, it was never going to happen. But, at the same time, the United States, as the sort of lead negotiator, had really a four-part negotiation to go on, one with Iran, one with the heads of the Security Council, Russia, China, and so forth, one with the U.S. Congress, and another one with countries like Israel and Saudi Arabia, who are terribly skeptical about the whole thing.

    And keeping all of that balanced at all times was really pretty astonishing.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right, so what do the European countries, what does the U.K. or Germany get out of this deal?

  • GARY SICK:

    You know, in a funny thing, this is kind of a revenge on Benjamin Netanyahu.

    He has, for years, been scaring everybody to death that there was going to be another war in the Middle East, that Israel was going to launch a unilateral attack against Iran and so forth, to the point where all of these countries said, anything is better than having another war in the Middle East, so let's actually cooperate with each other, put something together that works.

    And I think that's where we are. And the fact that Netanyahu is unhappy with the result is kind of ironic, but it's the reality of where we actually happen to be.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    I didn't mention France in that question, but France said as soon as the negotiations, well, listen we were actually toeing a harder line.

    What do they want out of it?

  • GARY SICK:

    Well, they have — they have become a little more ideological in the process.

    It wasn't so much that they have anything specific to gain that France would gain that Germany would not or that the British would not. I mean, basically, the Europeans were in this together. It was — it was, you know, chaired by the head of the E.U. foreign minister, basically.

    And so this wasn't something that they were in it competing with each other. But each country was there because of its own national interests. I think the first thing was that they all really wanted to avoid another war in the Middle East. And they saw this as the way to do it. And they were prepared to pay a certain price for that.

    In fact, most of the countries involved have paid a much higher price than we have, and — because many of them had much greater trade with Iran. They had more to lose. Their companies had to pull out. And they weren't happy about it. But they did it. And so they have actually paid a price to get to this point.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Economically, right.

    So, what about Russia and China?

  • GARY SICK:

    Well, Russia doesn't really want a nuclear-armed Iran on its southern border. I think, basically, when you talk about what could be hit, actually, Moscow is a lot closer than, say, Rome. So, it was actually in their self-interest to make sure that Iran didn't get a nuclear weapon, though I'm not sure they really thought that Iran was about to get a nuclear weapon.

    They also wanted — both countries, I think, wanted to keep the United States on their side. They have deals that they will want to do on other issues, including things like the Crimea and Ukraine and with China, a series of issues about human rights and the South China Sea.

    They need to be able to work with the Americans. And they also knew that, in this case, you had to work with the Americans, or it didn't work, that, basically, the United States had put this coalition together.

    The Obama administration, President Obama personally, had put together the greatest coalition in history in a peacetime environment of putting together sanctions on one country.

    And that was all held together by the Obama administration. And everybody knew that, to undo that and to actually make any progress, you had to have the Americans on board.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right, Gary Sick of Columbia University, thanks so much.

  • GARY SICK:

    Pleasure to be with you.

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