By Mahdi Mohammadi, Expert on Strategic Issues (Source: Iran Review)
Will the United States be able to turn the beginning of 2013 into a turning point for it strategy toward Iran? The visible signs related to this premise have not been very promising so far. From Iran's viewpoint, a change in Washington's proposals - if such a change is actually on the agenda - without a parallel change in its strategy will be only a tactical step aimed at diverting possible negotiations in a direction which will lead to escalation of pressures on Iran or influence on Iran's domestic environment in the run-up to the forthcoming presidential election.
The US government has based its policy on Iran, especially with regards to the nuclear negotiations, on certain grounds and as long as those grounds have not changed, there will be no serious change in negotiations. There are a few points which should be taken into consideration in this regard.
Firstly, the United States believes that the path of mounting pressure will support and bolster the path of negotiation. In other words, the Americans argue that Iran's considerations, and subsequently, its proposals, policies and behavior, will finally change provided that pressures exerted against the country are adequately smart, overarching, powerful and persistent. During the past decade, especially in the past seven years, Iran has tried to come up with a model of security strategy whose main goal is against the fundamental premise of the dual-track strategy. Iran wants, and has been able, to prove that the path of pressure will not provide support for the path of negotiation. The path of pressure may cause Iran suffer, may lead to objections and even outright protests inside the country, and may even, for a short period of time, make its followers happy, but it will not be able to change Iran's behavior with regard to the nuclear energy program. In more technical terms, pressure will have some effect, but will never lead to a conclusive result. Now is a time when this issue is put to test. Will the United States finally make a decisive decision on this issue or not. The outlook for negotiations will be only positive if and when this strategic principle of the United States is changed.
Secondly, the US government is trying to create a situation in which it would be able to extort considerable concessions from Iran without giving anything in return. In fact, the Iranian side has no doubt that in any possible negotiation the American side would only come to the negotiation table to dictate its views, not to reach a real agreement. However, they would try to carry out the process of dictating their decisions through apparent formalities in such a way that Iran would not be encouraged to turn the table. On the opposite, Iran is getting ready for a long-term game. Therefore, any delusional thinking about the possibility of putting a rapid end to Iran's strategic contention with the United States has no place in strategic decision-making system of the Islamic Republic. The assumption that this would be a long-term game, has caused Iran to brace itself for long-term pressures because it is most improbable in strategic terms that the United States will be able to replace its current dual-track strategy with a new one in the foreseeable future. Consequently, when Iran knows that the game will continue for long and is aware that the United States will not easily give up its pressure strategy, it would be too illogical and even childish for Tehran to sell all its assets at low price.
The Islamic Republic has already explained general conditions of a possible deal to the other side. The two sides, according to Tehran, should first address each other's concerns. The United States should, thus, recognize Iran's right to enrich uranium and Iran, in return, will announce that it has no plan to build nuclear weapons. In the next stage, the US and the European Union should remove all unilateral sanctions against Iran and Iran, for its part, will take immediate steps to address the remaining concerns of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) which the Western countries claim to be very important. In fact, a new round of IAEA's inspections of and access to Iran's nuclear sites will begin. In the third stage, Iran will be ready to negotiate about 20-percent enrichment provided that the United Nations Security Council will annul all its sanctions resolutions against Tehran. Iran plan also contains the fourth and fifth steps which should be taken by the two sides in order to promote cooperation on nuclear and non-nuclear issues. The main goal of these steps is also to build confidence and prepare suitable grounds for further cooperation between the two sides.
From Iran's viewpoint, this framework is, firstly, balanced and fair; that is, the principle of reciprocity has been observed in it. Secondly, the whole plan can be broken down into smaller steps which can be more easily taken by the two sides. This framework is, of course, open to further negotiations. It makes it clear to the United States that Iran has a good grasp of the price of its assets and it is impossible for Washington to drag Iran to a negotiation table where there is no balance between what is taken and what is given.
Now, the only thing which has remained for the Americans is to threaten that keeping that framework by Iran would mean deadlock in negotiations followed by further escalation of sanctions. In reality, however, such threats have lost their effectiveness. Putting too frequent stress on propaganda about the impact of sanctions on Iran has stripped those sanctions of much of their psychological effect. In reality, Iran has surmounted the highest peak of sanctions and has been able to adapt its vital systems to it. Perhaps, the Americans will be able from now on to change the price of a certain commodity for a limited period of time, but Iran will leave no place for ambiguity over the fact that its centrifuges are still spinning and will be never dismantled.
Now, on the threshold of a new round of negotiations between Iran and the world powers, the main question is what strategy has the US government prepared to achieve an agreement through negotiations. In the absence of such a strategy, the Americans will not have much time to spare.
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