While "confidence-building" is the most important factor in the course of any nuclear negotiations which hope to succeed between Iran and the P5+1 group, the United States is talking about a new round of coercive sanctions against Iran. The U.S. objective in continuing the "sanctions for negotiations" policy mainly aims at weakening the "nuclear consensus" inside Iran, thereby strengthening the U.S.'s hand to maximize its interests in future negotiations. But, this policy will have reverse result since a lack of nuclear consensus in Iran's politics will itself halt the progression on the diplomatic front.
For Iran, beyond the issue of acquiring peaceful energy and advancement, the nuclear consensus is based on maintaining the capacity for "independent uranium enrichment" meaning the acceptance of Iran as a "nuclear state" without weaponization by the world's great powers.
Since the start of Iran's nuclear standoff, the United States has sought the suspension of any uranium enrichment capacity on Iran's soil without any preconditions. This inflexible policy is of course different from the views held by other 5+1 countries i.e. the EU trio, Russia and China. During this period and for the sake of finding a tenable solution to the nuclear impasse, these actors have gradually come to agree with Iran's right to enrichment on its native soil. In the Geneva-3 negotiations this right was implicitly accepted by P5+1 group and ultimately by the United States, as Secretary Hillary Clinton noted just before the negotiations.
In such circumstances, calling for a new round of sanctions just before the Istanbul conference, is certainly aimed at increasing pressure on Iran, weakening Iran's nuclear consensus, and maximizing the U.S. advantage, especially on the issue of swapping Iran's enriched uranium stockpile. In this regard, the United States' follows a three-pronged policy.
First, imposing coercive economic sanctions: This policy is aimed at increasing economic pressure on Ahmadinejad's government thereby showing its inefficiency in handling Iran's economic and daily issues. Under this policy, it is hoped that economic pressures will have the necessary potential of creating two opposing political blocs at the level of the political elite and public and so the government under heavy domestic pressure will be forced to change its tough nuclear policy in order to have the punitive sanctions lifted.
Second, putting political and international pressure on Iran: This policy is aimed at enhancing the perception of Iran's international isolation inside the country. The United States is pressuring its allies and other countries daily to avoid expanding relations with Iran. By means of this policy, the United States is hoping that Iran's political blocs will line up against each other and the government wishing to expand its regional and international relations will ultimately change its nuclear policy.
Third, periodically announcing the possibility of a military threat: This policy is aimed at showing the imminence of a U.S and/or Israeli military attack. Here again it is hoped that the opposing political tendencies inside Iran will pressure Ahmadinejad's government to change its nuclear policy for the sake of preserving national security.
But one should remain skeptical that the stated U.S. policy will change Iran's nuclear position. First, unlike the United States' claim that sanctions only target the Iranian government, they will ultimately damage the Iranian people. This will empower the hand of the government in fighting against sanctions and legitimizing the government's nuclear policy inside Iran. Meanwhile, no critics of Ahmadinejad's government will be able to pressure the government to backpeddle on a national and strategic issue, the nuclear program, on the pretext of removing sanctions.
Second, and regarding the political and international pressure on Iran which mainly aims to weaken Iran from inside, one should note that this policy has resulted in the greater political integration of the government on the nuclear issue. A vivid example is the appointment of Ali-Akbar Salehi as Iran's Acting Foreign Minister. It seems that this change is aimed at creating "political integration" inside Iran for continuing the nuclear talks with the P5+1 group from a position of strength. Meanwhile, this change wanted to show the Western side that the government has a key role in the nuclear talks.
Third and finally regarding a possible military strike, if it is meant to be a comprehensive military strike, it is now quite clear that the United States because of the opposition of public opinion, many of its allies and other countries, is not in the position to start a new war with Iran. Regarding an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities, while this option is not, as the Westerners argue, a permanent solution, it has the risk of provoking Iran's withdrawal from the NPT and moving it toward a concerted effort for weaponization. Therefore there are few in Iran who would believe the U.S. military threat is serious in the near future. Meanwhile, any foreign threat will mobilize and unite Iranians thereby empowering Iran's nuclear consensus.
It is now crystal clear that Iran's nuclear consensus based on enriching uranium on Iran's soil is powerful, unassailable domestically and has reached the point of no return. One can argue that no political group in Iran would or even could demand the suspension of uranium enrichment on the pretext of removing sanctions.
In this situation, the only feasible option is to move toward a win-win game based on the two sides' relative satisfaction. Iran agrees with such a solution and as has been recently stressed by President Ahmadinejad, this policy will be the basis of negotiations in Istanbul. Based on a win-win situation, the United States accepts the right of Iran to enrich uranium on its soil (win for Iran) and Iran will give all necessary guarantees to ensure that Iran's nuclear program will not harbor military objectives (win for the United States).
But still the main prerequisite for entering a win-win situation is confidence-building between Iran and the United States. The U.S. sanctions for negotiations policy will add to Iran's distrust over the U.S aims for entering into nuclear negotiations. Therefore if the U.S. is sincere about finding a sustainable solution, then its attempts to weaken Iran's nuclear consensus will itself ruin attempts for continuing nuclear talks. This is because an Iran divided over the nuclear issue, as the experience after the post-presidential elections demonstrated, will not continue negotiations with the United States.
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.
About Iran Review: Iran Review (www.iranreview.org) is the leading independent, non-governmental and non-partisan website - organization representing scientific and professional approaches towards Iran's political, economic, social, religious, and cultural affairs, its foreign policy, and regional and international issues within the framework of analysis and articles.
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