Study of Obama Administration’s Behavior in Negotiations with Iran
Sunday, June 03, 2012
Seyed Mohammad Kazem Sajjadpour
University Faculty Member & International Issues Analyst
The latest round of negotiations between Iran and group P5+1 – including the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany – on Tehran’s nuclear activities, did not proceed as expected. Although the two sides agreed to meet for a new round of talks in the Russian capital, Moscow, on June 18-19, international analysts have no doubt that the United States has been the main obstacle on the way of achieving acceptable and serious agreements in this round of talks. The approach adopted by the US representatives both before and during negotiations, and even after talks, when the US negotiator visited Tel Aviv, was full of conflicts and contradictions which characterize the framework within which the Obama Administration has chosen to deal with Iran’s nuclear case.
The above facts lead to a very important and crucial question: How the behavior of Obama Administration toward Iran’s nuclear case can be analyzed from a general and large-scale viewpoint and how mentality and performance of Obama’s government with regard to this issue can be best scrutinized? Three concepts should be taken into account when trying to answer the above question about the behavior of Obama’s government. They include: 1. The Concept of Iran threat; 2. Multilateralism, and 3. Election Priorities. An effective mix of these concepts has led to the existing behavior of Obama Administration with respect to Iran’s nuclear case. As a result, discussing a combination of these concepts will be of great help in elucidating the principal mental and practical lines of action which are followed by Obama Administration.
1. The Concept of Iran Threat
Before he was elected president, Barack Obama elucidated the main framework of his purported foreign policy in an article which was published in July 2007, that is, quite a long time before the presidential election which swept him to power in the White House. In that article, which was published by the Foreign Policy magazine, Obama described Iran as a threat to the United States and offered several solutions for handling Iran’s threat which were different from the approach taken by his predecessor, George W. Bush. The fact that the United States considers Iran a threat is not a new phenomenon. Since the victory of the Islamic Revolution in Iran, the United States has considered the Islamic Republic an essential threat to its security interests. However, Washington’s understanding of that threat as well as the degree and urgency of Iran threat and the best way of counteracting it has been constantly changing.
Obama administration approaches Iran’s nuclear case within the large-scale framework of Iran threat and basically believes that the Islamic Republic of Iran’s nuclear capacity and capability constitute a threat to the United States. The national security elites of the United States, however, hold different views on the degree of urgency which should be assigned to Iran threat which reflects different ways they believe Iran’s nuclear case should be handled. Obama does not seem to consider Iran’s nuclear threat an urgent and immediate threat to US interests. On the opposite, a group of neoconservatives as well as right-wing Israeli politicians believe that Iran threat is very urgent, immediate and profound. In their opinion, even a single day of delay in dealing with this essential threat is unforgiveable.
Despite such differences, the fact which should not be ignored is that Obama, like other American and Zionist national security elites, considers Iran a threat. However, he has different opinion about urgency and immediacy of Iran threat, though he has frequently noted that in case Iran gets close to building nuclear weapons, the United States should take immediate action against the country. Obama recently announced that if Iran gets close to building nuclear weapons, the US policy toward Iran will not be containment anymore, but will be replaced by other policies, by which he means preemptive policies. Nonetheless, continued focus on Iran threat is a major element which should be taken into account when reading the minds of the American security elites because the US has approached Iran’s nuclear case from this angle in any multilateral negotiation. However, the main approach taken by Obama Administration is giving priority to multilateralism and it seems to remain unchanged in foreseeable future.
It should be first noted that multilateralism is not special to Obama Administration. The United States had already started to deal with Iran’s nuclear case in a multilateral manner since later months of President Bush’s term. Even Bush Administration had tried to get attuned with other permanent members of the United Nations Security Council as well as Germany and adopt a single approach to Iran’s nuclear case. However, the main difference between Bush and Obama is more emphasis which is put on multilateralism and multilateral mechanisms by Obama compared to his predecessor. Obama Administration sees the Security Council Resolution 1929 as the final fruit of its nuclear strategy toward Iran.
Of course, Obama’s multilateral approach has been, and will be, faced with challenges. In order to get other member states of the P5+1 in line, the Americans have to make adjustments to their policies. Despite this fact, multilateralism has been, and will be, the dominant feature of the US approach to Iran's nuclear case.
It should be noted that since Obama puts much emphasis on multilateralism, even anti-Iran sanctions which have been imposed unilaterally by Washington, have been enforced through international organizations and in coordination with a number of international players which shows the importance that Washington attaches to using all capacities of multilateralism in order to intensify sanctions against Iran. It is also noteworthy that the US multilateralism is not simply a product of Obama’s ideas, but stems from a set of mechanisms which Obama and his team have employed to deal with Iran’s nuclear case. There is no doubt that Obama Administration cares more about international cooperation in dealing with nuclear disarmament and management of global nuclear issues compared to other American governments.
Let’s not forget that multilateralism alone cannot explain the US behavior in this case. Although such concepts as Iran threat and multilateralism, which form theoretical foundations of Obama’s behavior, are very important, Obama also attaches great importance to the forthcoming US presidential elections in his approach to Iran’s nuclear case. As such, the approaching US election campaigns have had profound effects on this case.
3. Election Priorities
The United States is in for new presidential elections this year. Although Obama fares relatively better than his republican rivals, he has a challenging, difficult and tense year ahead of him. Iran’s nuclear case is among key topics of election discourses and disputes. Obama is faced with various domestic pressures from the US Congress as well as foreign pressures from the Zionist regime of Israel and certain Arab countries. The burden of pressures and anti-Obama activities of political groups which oppose his reelection, including the Israeli government headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well as media, propaganda and theoretical institutions affiliated to that current, is so heavy that Obama finds himself in special conditions in terms of domestic policies. Up to this time, Obama has tried to create an even fragile balance between various political tendencies and pressures which his government is suffering.
This is why the United States appeared so adamant in Baghdad talks. Based on the latest media reports, European countries attending Baghdad talks were ready to discuss postponement of Iran’s oil sanctions by the European Union (which will enter into force in July). Even some US political circles said the United States is going to appear more resilient in its positions. Pressures exerted by the Zionist regime of Israel as well as the US Congress, however, prevented Washington from playing such a resilient role in nuclear negotiations with Iran.
Let’s not forget that the US lawmakers passed a resolution about three months ago, namely in March 2012, which requires the US government to take necessary measures to prevent Iran from achieving capacities to build nuclear weapons. The resolution was passed following the latest meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) which was attended by 12,000 political activists supporting the Zionist regime of Israel. The decision kindled many controversies about how a country’s military capacity can be assessed. However, apart from technical issues, the impact of such political pressures and positions on the behavior of Obama Administration should not be ignored. It seems that managing these pressures has become more challenging for Obama Administration compared to a few months ago. The collective impact of three aforesaid factors of Iran threat, multilateralism, and election priorities will determine US government’s behavior with respect to Iran’s nuclear case in the coming months.
Firstly, the United States will continue to pursue the double policy of intensifying sanctions while making all efforts to keep multilateral negotiations going. This is exactly the same policy which has been described by the US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as two-track policy.
Secondly, the Obama Administration will try to forge a balance among domestic considerations, foreign considerations related to Washington’s Zionist and Arab allies, and its government’s domestic policies. However, it is not clear to what extent he will be able to actually create such a balance. It seems that Obama Administration will succeed in keeping the relative balance among three above factors to meet his election concerns, but practical result of his policies will be further lack of resilience in upcoming talks with Iran.
Thirdly, the final result of this situation will be possible facilitation of negotiations and continuation of sanctions. The Obama Administration seems to have ignored this point, which may turn out to be an important factor in future talks. The way the US government will choose to deal with this issue will be of utmost importance.
It should be noted that Iran’s nuclear case teems with variables, players and challenges and in some cases, challenges which have been created to further close the noose around Iran, have actually become new challenges for the Obama Administration as well. An important trend should be mentioned here which is closely related to this issue. The Zionist regime of Israel has tried to draw international attention to Iran’s nuclear case as the foremost concern of the international community and to give a global dimension to possible military strike against Iran. However, Israel’s efforts have, unwillingly, highlighted the need to achieve a global consensus and all international players are now talking about such a consensus. This is a major challenge facing Israeli officials. In short, Iran’s nuclear case is a dynamic case, but the United States treatment of the case is stalled by the US government’s petrified security mentality about Iran, especially as a result of the heavy burden of political pressures and domestic political disputes that Obama Administration is facing in the run-up to presidential polls. In the meantime, Obama and his foreign policy team should not forget that Iran is a very important, remarkable and effective player.
Key Words: Obama Administration’s Behavior, Iran and P5+1, The Concept of Iran threat, Multilateralism, Election Priorities, Israel, Sajjadpour
Source: Iranian Diplomacy
Translated By: Iran Review
More By Seyed Mohammad Kazem Sajjadpour:
*Warmongering: The Inseparable Element of US Presidential Election Campaigns: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Warmongering_The_Inseparable_Element_of_US_Presidential_Election_Campaigns.htm
*The United States and its Concern about World Leadership: http://iranreview.org/content/Documents/The_United_States_and_World_Leadership.htm
*Iran and US Election Campaigns: Anatomy of the Ongoing Propaganda Hype: http://www.iranreview.org/content/Documents/Iran_and_US_Election_Campaigns_Anatomy_of_the_Ongoing_Propaganda_Hype.htm