BBC Persian has conducted an interview with Gary Sick, Foremer US National Security member and Middle East affairs analyst, a report of which follows.
Sick: Actually both sides have been relatively positive about the outcome. In a lot of cases the two sides' reaction is more important than the content of the talks. I think that all agree that no big advance was made in Almaty negotiations, but the US, and the West in general, offered a better proposal than before and I am happy that Iran displayed a positive reaction to it. This is a good sign for the upcoming expert talks in Istanbul.
BBC: You said that reactions have been more positive than the reality there in Almaty talks. Why is it that you think so?
Sick: Well, they have been asking for some time for the United States and the West to offer more positive proposals than before. I think that the West, actually 5+1, laid a better offer on the table. It amended some of its previous demands of Iran, and I am so happy that Iran saw it as a sign that improvement is really possible. Still the details must be analyzed and it must be seen if something really happens after the next two rounds of talks. But, in the Iran-West relationships the two sides' impressions are more important than the reality. Usually both sides leave the room with a lot of negative impressions which make improvement very hard. The fact that both sides were positive at least keeps the gate to hope open for the time being. We have to see if this really leads to progress.
BBC: A book has been lately published in the US called Going to Tehran. Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann have written the book. They say that the US needs to take a big and brave step in order to get closer to Tehran; similar to what Richard Nixon did going to China.
Sick: Well, a lot of people forget that before Nixon went to China, covert meetings were held at the foreign ministry level to decide on the details. If Iran and US Foreign Ministers could meet covertly and devise a plan that would guarantee real progress then we could have a milestone. But such a thing has not happened and right now this is a very big demand and no ground for that exists yet, and unfortunately it is too soon to talk about a landmark such as that.
BBC: If negotiations go on, do you see the current US administration as capable of taking such a huge step in relation to Tehran?
Sick: Yes. I believe that when Obama became President he sought for more cooperation. But 2009 Iranian elections lead to chaos in the country which disrupted Obama's program. On the other side, those events make the US loose faith in any kind of progress on Iran and therefore give up more cooperation and instead impose pressure on Iran. Obama has now entered his second term and enjoys more freedom than the first term. On the other side we also see small but positive signs from Iran that show Iran is willing to talk. In Iran-US relationships there are few moments when both sides feel that progress can be made in negotiations. This is one of those moments, but it is very fragile. Just a tiny incident can alter everything. Therefore I am not much optimistic. In the past I have seen such occasions to shatter. But this has been the best occasion in the past several years.
BBC: Let's get back to the book where the authors believe that the American outlook towards Iran is basically wrong, and as long as this does not change nothing would change.
Sick: The perception of Iran in the United States is incorrect in the book. It is clear that the US has a wrong perception of Iran. Due to the hostage there is no trust in Iran. The picture of the youth with clenched fists that shout "Death to the US”. Right now also many people shout the same "Death to the US” in the Friday prayers. I think that the Iran-US problem comes more from domestic policies than foreign policies. Inside the US you cannot easily show Iran a kind face. The Conservatives condemn any act of compromise towards Iran and say it means turning down US interests. On the other hand, in Iran too it is very hard to take a significant step or make compromise. They say no sign of reconciliation towards America, the "big Devil”, must be shown. Therefore we are in a situation where progress is very very difficult and complicated. That's why I say in current circumstances no big leap can be seen. Rather there is a tiny opening to light so maybe the US is ready to take discreet measures. Also there are signs from Iran that show the country may take positive steps. Therefore it could be said that all of this is positive but we must remember that there has been 34 years of enmity between the two countries and it is not just the US that has wrong perceptions of Iran. The same is true about Iran. Soling problems on both sides is a very tough job.
BBC: Now that you mentioned US internal problems, let me ask you this. Some think that if the White House will be willing to reduce some of the sanctions on Iran it may face resistance by the Congress. How probable is that?
Sick: Yes and no. Clearly we have a new bill that has just been introduced a few days ago in the Congress that practically says that the US must support Israel should it attack Iran. This bill will not help the talks at all and is not constructive. Yes, the US Congress will create problems, but if it is ratified that the Iranian nuclear issue is being handled and will be solved, the Congress would not be able to deny the fact easily, or adopt positions that would interfere with the talks. Therefore the President can deal freely with the issue to some extent. A problem that we have always had is that the US has never really had the will to negotiate, because if you want to give Iran a profitable offer you must really make political sacrifices. So we might be at a moment that this political will could be effective. If Iran and Mr. Salehi believe that this political will could be used and a stable result could be achieved their judgment is right. Of course for both sides the political sacrifice would be very difficult. But there is no doubt that the President of the United States must make a big political sacrifice and face the Congress. But the important thing is that people of America do not want to enter another war in the Middle East, and if he manages to convince others that the odds for war are going down the people of America will support him and the Congress would have to accept it.