The cynic in me tried to temper the thrill I felt when the early chapter of U.S.-Iran rapprochement reached its apex last month with the historic phone call between President Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. The leadership of these two belligerents finally seemed to simultaneously entertain peaceful resolution to their disputes. Today, Iran presented a proposal for a deal on its nuclear program to the P5+1, which was reportedly well-received.
But much of the political establishment in Washington, particularly the Republican Party, is dead set against détente. And their strategy for sabotaging the talks is simple: insist on making absurd demands everyone knows Iran would never accept, and then play it up to Iranian intransigence.
The case in point is Marco Rubio’s Op-Ed in today’s USA Today, in which he insists that “the bottom line in any negotiations should be clear: the only way sanctions on Iran will be lifted or suspended is if they agree to completely abandon any capability for enrichment or reprocessing.”
In Foreign Policy, Colin Kahl and Alireza Nader warn against this line of thinking, in which “hawks in Israel and Washington…
…have cautioned the Obama administration against acquiescing to an agreement that allows Iran to continue any domestic uranium enrichment, even at low levels suitable only for civilian nuclear power and under stringent international supervision. In his Oct. 1 speech to the U.N. General Assembly, for example, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted that only a complete dismantling of Iran’s enrichment program could prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapons. This position has been echoed by conservative think tanks in Washington and by numerous voices on Capitol Hill. Their collective mantra: “a bad deal is worse than no deal.”
In other words, Iran must surrender its internationally recognized right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes and obey arbitrary U.S. demands or else face continued economic sanctions and threats of war. It is hard to fathom how infantile one has to be to really believe détente can happen via total surrender on one side and zero concessions on the other. But that’s what hawks demand.
This tough-guy routine the GOP insists upon is devoid of any utility because “if talks fail because the United States insists on a maximalist position, Khamenei and other Iranian hardliners will likely interpret it as definitive proof that Washington’s real goal is regime change rather than a nuclear accord,” Kahl and Nader explain.
Indeed, how could they reach any other conclusion? As I wrote recently at Al Jazeera, Iran has good reason to believe the main U.S. goal is regime change. Not only does this remove any incentive to make a deal, but it signifies to the Iranians that obtaining a nuclear deterrent is the only means of ensuring their survival in the face of preventive (read: criminal) war by the U.S.
Update: See Michael Crowley at Time on “Four Good Reasons Iran Doesn’t Trust America.”