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The West Strategy toward Iran's Nuclear Program

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Problems and Prospects

Mohammad Reza Kiani
PhD Candidate in International Relations, Islamic Azad University,Tehran

The debate over Iran's nuclear program has mounted in recent years. Western countries have increased their pressure and pursued the sanctions and embargoes that the US Government has imposed on Iran for more than 30 years. However, Iranian officials believe that resistance is necessary for protecting national nuclear achievements and the apparent success of Dr. Ahmadinejad’s nuclear diplomacy has seemingly validated his claim that, should Iran remain steadfast, the Western powers will grudgingly accept its new status. In the meantime and according to Western senior diplomats, there is no evidence that the country is building nuclear weapons.

It should be noted that, although Iranian officials tried to set more grounds for more cooperation with the West, however their actions and interactions found no audience at all. For instance On May 17, Iran issued a declaration with Turkey and Brazil under which Tehran expressed readiness to swap 1,200 kg of its low-enriched uranium on Turkish soil with 20 percent-enriched nuclear fuel for use in a research reactor in Tehran. The trio's agreement came as part of efforts for ending the standoff between Iran and the West over Tehran's civilian nuclear program, a move which was answered by adoption of fourth round of sanction by the UN Security Council (UNSC).

The sanctions, the fourth since 2006, fell far short of the crippling measures the US had said it was seeking – though Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, has still called them "the most significant sanctions that Iran has ever faced". Then different kinds of sanctions by the US and European countries against Iran came to play and more recently, an overwhelming majority of the US Senate urged President Barack Obama to impose "crippling sanctions" on Iran's financial system in a bid to hinder its suspected nuclear programme. Republican Senator Mark Kirk and Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer led the effort, saying it was time to "increase the economic pressure" on Tehran with "a comprehensive strategy" to address the Islamic republic's defiance of global sanctions aimed at forcing it to freeze its uranium enrichment program.

But according to the Iranian officials imposing sanctions on Iran is an ineffective weapon that will not hinder the country's progress. The rationality behind Iran’s nuclear diplomacy under President Ahmadinejad is that, given the United States’ immutable hostility toward Iran, any concession on the nuclear program would only lead to further impositions. Ahmadinejad has stressed, “If this issue is resolved they will bring up human rights. If human right is resolved, they will bring up animal rights.”

It is perceived that US “carrot and stick” policy and dual-track approach of both international sanctions and incentives could not convince Iranians for further cooperation. In fact, the nuclear question in Iran has always been a matter of national sovereignty rather than a desire for weapons domination. With a nuclear armed Pakistan on the East, an unstable Iraq with the military presence of American troops on the West, Afghanistan with more American troops to the Northeast, the strange governments of Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan on the North, the volatile Persian Gulf on the South, and Israel's Nuclear Weapons Capability Iran has every reason to be sensitive about its own security.

It should be noted that, recent sanctions have affected Iran’s foreign trade diplomacy. In fact they have changed the previous way in which Iran was carrying out its international financial trade. In response to economic isolation, it has increasingly tried to fill in the gap by providing considerable incentives to Chinese, Indian and Central Asian companies to attract their investment. In other words, the government has moved to adapt itself to the pressing circumstances by adopting a trade policy of Asianization and economic regionalism. Considering the Western countries behavior toward Iran’s peaceful nuclear activities, one may conclude that if the current process continues it will toughen Iranians' stance in pursuing their “inalienable right”.

These explanations might lead one to conclude that hard-headed negotiations are still the only plausible and potentially effective means to resolve longstanding disputes over Iran’s nuclear program. It cannot be denied that crippling and comprehensive sanctions on Iran will inevitably adversely affect the government’s economic maneuverability, but taking their toll first and foremost on the people, the sanctions are likely to fall short of curbing the country’s nuclear activities.

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