The US has now joined the European Trio (England,
France and Germany) in a new carrot-and-stick strategy that wants to convince
Iran to halt uranium enrichment permanently in return for an economic incentive
package that includes selling civilian airplane spare parts to Iran, and
dropping US opposition to Iran's quest for membership in the World Trade
Organization. The flip side is that if Iran refuses the offer, the EU will
cooperate with the US in reporting Iran to the UN Security Council for possible
Why this sudden US change of heart, one might ask? The main reason,
according to reliable sources, is that during their recent visits to Europe,
President Bush and Secretary of State Rice convinced the European Trio that
unless Iran's uranium enrichment program completely and permanently stops, it
would in due course build nuclear weapons. The Europeans, while accepting this
argument, warned the US that such a demand would lead to the inevitable failure
of their negotiations with Iran, which has insisted on its right to uranium
enrichment for peaceful purposes.
Nonetheless, the Europeans agreed to
change their position, from recognizing Iran's right to uranium enrichment for
peaceful purposes to the US position of not recognizing such a right for Iran,
if the Bush administration joined the negotiations by supporting the Trio's
economic incentives for Iran. The Trio also accepted the US demand that if their
carrot-based negotiations failed, they would join the administration to report
Iran to the United Nations for a tougher stick-based approach.
inherent inability of Europe to handle major international crises independent of
the US led them to finally accept the American agenda for negotiations with
Iran. It is this European dependence on the US that Iran has failed to
appreciate, and which led Tehran to fruitless diplomacy with the EU Trio. The
Bush administration has won a public diplomacy coup against Europe and Iran.
Given the low price the US has offered, and Iran's insistence on its right to
maintain uranium enrichment, the negotiations are doomed to fail.
an outcome will serve the Bush administration in a number of ways. Europe will
be forced to accept an American solution and Iran will find it impossible to
refuse to deal with the US directly. Yet the most important immediate benefit to
the US is in the area of public relations, the purpose for which the US
supported the EU Trio in the first place. If it had not joined the negotiations
and they failed, the blame would have gone to the US; now that the US has joined
and offered "incentives," the blame will fall on Iran.
The US needed to
shift the blame on Iran to make it easier for it to report Tehran to the UN for
multilateral sanctions and/or imposition of other options, including the use of
force. President Bush has clearly expressed his administration's public
diplomacy ploy: "We are working with our friends to make sure not only the world
hears that but that the negotiating strategy achieves the objective of pointing
out where guilt needs to be, as well as achieving the objective of no nuclear
weapons." (New York Times, Thursday March 3, 2005).
Similarly, referring to the US-EU joint carrot-and-stick Iran strategy,
Secretary of State Rice told Reuters on March 11 that "This is about unifying
the international community so that it's Iranians who are isolated, not the
United States." Meanwhile, and parallel to its public diplomacy, the US is
making efforts to report Iran to the UN Security Council. Thus, when President
Bush says "all options" remain open, he is not contemplating serious diplomacy,
which requires direct dialogue and willingness to compromise. Good faith
negotiating is the key to successful diplomacy.
Public diplomacy aside,
forcing Iran into a strategic choice between permanently forgoing its rights to
uranium enrichment and facing American rage is the ultimate purpose of the US
strategy in joining the EU in its negotiations with Iran. Under this condition,
Iran might decide to stop the negotiations and accuse the Trio of backing off
from their original position, thus risking a showdown with the EU-US coalition
in the UN. Alternatively, Iran might decide to accept the
enrichment-for-incentive exchange, but only after more carrots are added to the
Iran will be well advised to take this latter road and use the
indirect opening to the US to build confidence with Washington. Iran could be
tempted to ask for a long list of incentives, including relief from American
sanctions and removal from the list of states sponsoring terrorism. At this
early stage, however, it will be a mistake for Iran to demand more than what the
Americans are prepared to offer. The one thing that Iran must demand Americans
do is to join the negotiations more directly, a demand that the Bush
administration should welcome.
The window of opportunity that has been
developed can be further opened if Iran and the US were to use the European
channel to engage and then bypass that medium for a more direct dialogue.
Ultimately, the deal over the Iranian uranium enrichment programs has the
potential to make a large dent in the ice of US-Iran relations, leading to its
gradual normalization. As the US experience with other dictatorships has shown
in recent times, diplomatic ties are crucial for resolution of international
problems and for the development of democratic institutions.
Washington now has Iran on its toes to accept its proposed solution to Iran's
nuclear crisis, the balance could tip in favor of Iran if the opportunity is not
used for further US-Iran engagement. Iran would win the public relations against
the US if the Bush administration were to refuse Iran's call for more direct
talks. Iran could also walk out of the negotiations if its reasonable demands
are ignored and the regime humiliated. Some hard-line conservatives have dubbed
the Iranian pragmatic negotiators as traitors. On the nuclear issue, they have
most Iranians on their side.
The Bush administration has threatened
Tehran with multilateral sanctions and military attacks if Iran does not stop
uranium enrichment. While such US actions would inflict significant costs on
Iran and the Iranian people, they would not end the regime or halt its
enrichment activities. On the contrary, they will further militarize the regime,
strengthen its resolve to build a nuclear bomb, destroy what is left of the
reform movement, and produce an anti-American backlash among a generally
US-friendly population. The only realistic option is to use the opportunity that
has developed to engage Iran toward normalization of relations
Hooshang Amirahmadi is Professor and Director of the
Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Rutgers University and President of the American Iranian Council.