The US is wrong about Iran. Cutting a deal is the only win-win solution.
The US approach on Iran – sanctions and threats – will only drive Iran towards weaponization and undermine negotiations set for Jan. 21 in Turkey. A US-Iran deal, however, would allow Iran enrichment capabilities in exchange for a non-weapons pledge.
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Why US approach won't change Iran
The problem with this US approach is that it will not change Iran’s nuclear position.Skip to next paragraph
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First, despite President Obama’s claim that sanctions will only target the Iranian government, they will ultimately damage the Iranian people. That in turn will not weaken, but empower the hand of the government. No critics of Ahmadinejad will be able to pressure him to backpedal on the national priority of a nuclear program, because he will be able to blame Iran’s economic troubles on the US.
Second, international pressure to isolate Iran has already backfired from the American standpoint, resulting in the greater consolidation of, rather than a split of, political elites on the nuclear issue.
All political factions understand that Iran’s future depends on deeper engagement with the outside world, and they must thereby demonstrate a unity of national interest. A vivid example is the appointment of moderate Ali-Akbar Salehi as Iran’s acting foreign minister. There could be no clearer signal to the West ahead of the Istanbul negotiations that the Iranian people, whatever their other disagreements, speak with one voice on the nuclear issue.
Third, with respect to a military strike, the Iranian public is by now well versed both on the limited military effects of an attack as well as on the limitations of American public opinion. They know that a military attack would only set back Iran’s program while provoking Iran’s withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and pushing it toward a concerted effort for weaponization. With the US mired in Afghanistan, after having fought the war in Iraq, the Iranian public knows the American public is in no mood for yet another war.
Consequently, there are few in Iran who believe the US military threat is serious in the near future. And if it were, any foreign threat would unite Iranians even more so.
A win-win solution
Given the realities I have described, the only viable option is to move toward a win-win solution that satisfies the interests of both sides in this standoff. Under this scenario, the US would accept the right of Iran to enrich uranium on its soil (win for Iran), and Iran would give all necessary guarantees to ensure that its nuclear program does not harbor military objectives (win for the United States). As has been recently stressed by President Ahmadinejad, this policy will be the basis of negotiations in Istanbul.
The main prerequisite for arriving at this win-win solution is confidence-building between Iran and the United States. The US must understand that sanctions will only engender distrust in negotiations, while not weakening domestic consensus on Iran’s aspiration to enrich uranium on its own soil.
The unity of Iranians on the country’s nuclear policy should not be seen as something the US ought to break up. It is, in fact, the only basis for a negotiated solution. As the experience of the post-election turmoil suggested last year, a divided Iran would not negotiate with the US at all.
Kayhan Barzegar is a faculty member at the Science and Research Campus, Islamic Azad University, Iran, and an associate at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. He is also a senior research fellow at the Center for Strategic Research (CSR) and the Center for Middle East Strategic Studies in Tehran. The views expressed in this essay are solely those of the author.