Some Words of Advice to Mr. Obama

Friday, November 23, 2012

Mahdi Mohammadi
Expert on Strategic Issues

For the beginning, let’s assume that what the Western sources have said about tactical and strategic rethinking by the US President Barack Obama’s government of its Iran policy are true. Of course, this assumption is seriously open to debate. Whether Washington is really aiming to rethink its Iran policy is not the main issue here, but the important point is that if such a presumed assumption is true, what is its main goal: to take a practical step to solve the problem, or to influence the forthcoming presidential election in Iran.

This article presumes that the first option is true; that is, the Americans are actually planning to use the time interval between the presidential election in their own country and that of Iran to find a diplomatic solution to Iran nuclear issue. This would be a very simplistic assumption, but such simplification would help us to look at this issue from a totally different angle.

If working out a diplomatic solution to the problem related to Iran nuclear energy program is actually possible – which Iran thinks is – then what features should characterize that solution? Are there any components the absence of which would cause any new proposal to fail in advance? Here is some piece of advice which Obama administration seems to be badly in need of. One of the most important problems facing the Americans in the past years has been lack of a correct understanding of the strategic calculations of Iran. Therefore, they did not precisely know what is and what is not acceptable to Iran.

The United States’ effort to impose its wishes on Iran has been actually intensified because the Americans feel that under pressure, they can expand the number of acceptable items on Iran's agenda with regard to its nuclear energy program, or other issues. In fact, they believe that under mounting pressure, Iran will be ready to give more concessions. This is a failed strategy because the only thing which has happened as a result of its implementation is that Iran has become more headstrong. The strategy of putting more pressure on Iran only conveyed one single message to Tehran: the main goal of the West is to bring about regime change in the Islamic Republic, not to work out a final logical solution. As a result, any compromise will mean Iran's weakness and its ultimate outcome will be nothing but further escalation of pressures on Iran and increase in expectations.

The alternative to this path is a successful diplomatic drive in which the United States, instead of focusing on the imposition of its demands on Iran, would spend its energy on finding out why a diplomatic mechanism has not worked so far and whether the mounting pressure on Tehran would be of any real help to negotiations.

The following points will provide useful guides in this regard:

1. The first point is that any new proposal should be necessarily and in the very first step inclusive of the “effective” abrogation of international sanctions against Iran. This can be the only move which will send the message to Iran that the West is serious about its negotiation claims and that the Western countries do not aim to use negotiations as a tool to find fault with Iran in order to further increase pressures on the Islamic Republic. The “effective” removal of sanctions means that sanctions should not be simply revoked in a symbolic and insignificant way, but should be lifted in a real manner. This request does not mean that Iran is looking for a way to get rid of sanctions at any cost; in fact, the Western countries know better than anybody else that sanctions are, at most, a means of making the Iranian people suffer than a means of putting end to Iran's nuclear activities. The main issue, however, is that Iran needs a trustworthy sign which can prove to Tehran that the whole story of negotiations is not a new show to find an excuse for the escalation of sanctions against Iran. That sign should be exclusively effective abrogation of sanctions.

2. The second point is that any new proposal should necessarily include recognition of Iran's right to enrich uranium on its soil. Therefore, arranging for a diplomatic game in such a way that sanctions would be lifted in return for gradual phasing out of Iran's enrichment activities, would not be an attractive model for Iran because it would take Iran back to the start line without Tehran having gained anything. Iran's uranium enrichment technology should not be considered by the West as quid pro quo for the removal of sanctions. Iran, however, had offered a package of proposals during negotiations with the P5+1 group (including the US, the UK, France, China, and Russia plus Germany) in the Russian capital, Moscow, which could have paved the way for a fair give-and-take equation.

3. The third point is that the West should send clear signals to show without any ambiguity what it is actually pursing to achieve. The regular avoidance of the United States and the P5+1 group from clarifying what may happen at the end of the negotiation process obviously means that Iran should enter a game whose ending cannot be determined with certainty. If the final step is not clear, the first step cannot be even taken. Let’s assume that, for example, what the Americans have in mind is to first arrange a deal over 20-percent uranium enrichment by Iran before lifting part of the sanctions. If the next step is the acceptance by Iran of the United States provision to limit enrichment to 5 percent, the entire story would be quite different from when the next step is to impose new sanctions under new excuses, or to make revocation of the remaining sanctions conditional on total suspension of 5-percent enrichment or compliance with the full extent of the United Nations Security Council resolutions. In fact, if Iran wanted to implement the Security Council’s resolutions, it did not need to negotiate with the P5+1 in the first place. These sanctions with the P5+1 started because Iran did not want to give in to the Security Council’s resolutions as their implementation is impossible for Tehran. One must wait and see whether the P5+1 will finally find a way out of its current predicament or not. In one sense, the second and third steps are more important than the first step. If the second and third steps end in a trap, the first step will never be taken even if it entails a valuable opportunity.

Key Words: Obama, Iran Policy, Removal of Sanctions, Enrichment Activities, P5+1, Security Council Resolutions, Mohammadi

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