In a new report, the International Crisis Group suggests the election of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani does present a potential diplomatic opening, and that the U.S. should organize direct bilateral engagement with Iran (as opposed to the hollow P5+1). “Now is not the time to ramp up sanctions against Iran,” ICG adds.
The report’s recommendations will never happen because Washington isn’t interested in actually reaching a substantive deal with Iran. Most of Obama’s so-called diplomacy with Iran has been “predicated on intimidation, illegal threats of military action, unilateral ‘crippling’ sanctions, sabotage, and extrajudicial killings of Iran’s brightest minds,” writes Reza Nasri at PBS Frontline’s Tehran Bureau. This, despite a consensus in the military and intelligence community that Iran is not currently developing nuclear weapons and has not even made the political decision to do so.
As former CIA analyst Paul Pillar has pointed out, the sanctions are “designed to fail.” Congress’s legislation links the sanctions to a long list of Iranian policies not at all related to their nuclear program. This makes lifting them really difficult in the context of nuclear negotiations.
Beyond the obvious charade of diplomacy, the Iranians aren’t necessarily likely to be susceptible to U.S. proposals. And for very good reason: Washington is untrustworthy.
As the ICG report notes, Rouhani has experience in substantive diplomacy. He “is the architect of the sole nuclear agreement between the Islamic Republic and the West, a not inconsiderable achievement given the depth of mistrust.” But,
lessons he has learned from the 2003/2004 deal – and from the bitter criticism he subsequently endured at home – could well induce him to greater caution; in hindsight, the agreement was seen as deeply flawed and one in which Iran’s suspension resulted neither in recognition of its right to enrichment nor in promised nuclear, technological, economic and security inducements. A former colleague said, “he made all the concessions the Europeans asked for in 2003 and 2004. But the West left him empty-handed and under fire from Iranian hardliners”.
It’s not the first time Iranian give has been met with nothing but American take. After the failed talks in 2009 and 2010, wherein Obama ended up rejecting the very deal he demanded the Iranians accept, as Harvard professor Stephen Walt has written, the Iranian leadership “has good grounds for viewing Obama as inherently untrustworthy.” Pillar has concurred, arguing that Iran has “ample reason” to believe, “ultimately the main Western interest is in regime change.”
Despite this, be prepared to see virtually the entire political and media establishment frame any U.S.-Iranian tension going forward as wholly the fault of the intransigent ayatollahs and assume nothing but goodwill on the part of Washington.