By Paolo von Schirach
February 6, 2014
WASHINGTON – Whatever the final outcome of the Iran nuclear negotiations, Iran has already won. Just by hinting about a desire to reach a deal, it has received a huge prize: moral rehabilitation. All of a sudden, a more friendly looking president Hassan Rouhani is described as the embodiment of a gigantic –and certainly benign–policy shift. Iran, it is now clear, wants peace with the West –really. You want proof? Well, he says he wants a deal. What more do you want?
Negotiations are good, give diplomacy a chance
Well, sensible people would want more, a lot more than just generic declarations. And so far it is clear that Iran, at best, is prepared to freeze its advanced nuclear program in place, a totally meaningless gesture because the country would retain all it needs to resume creating weapons grade material at a moment’s notice. But the world is mostly happy. “Look, there are negotiations. The Americans and the Iranians are sitting at the same table, and they are talking. There is clearly a thaw in relations. This must be good.”
No real concessions
I doubt it. The Iranians are prepared to make symbolic gestures in exchange for fewer or no sanctions. I believe that they have made a shrewd calculation about how tough the West really is. And they have concluded that through a charm offensive it is possible to break the sanctions front without giving anything up.
They will keep saying that they have no intention to make nuclear weapons. But they want to keep in place a program that is inconsistent with their declared purpose of pursuing only a civilian use of nuclear technology. And so they are adamant about their will to keep in place all their capabilities to easily build nuclear weapons at any point in the future, this way retaining their prestige and influence in the region. In the meantime, all those in the West who are salivating at the prospect of business opportunities with Iran will lobby their governments so that they will accept any deal, including a bad deal.
Cracking the sanctions front
The current Washington official policy stance whereby “if Iran misbehaves we are ready to put in place even tougher sanctions“, may deter the Iranians for a while. But watch out. When we all get used to doing business with a “normal” Iran, it will be very difficult to recreate a strong, pro-sanctions united front. And, without a united front, sanctions are meaningless.
The Iranians know all this and most likely are counting on this outcome. A charm offensive is the best tool to create cracks in what has been until yesterday a strong pro-sanctions front that really damaged the country’s economy. And consider how easy this is. Just by looking a bit more reasonable, they have already won the public relations battle.
Pariah state no more
Think about it. Beyond its nuclear program clearly in contravention with the non proliferation regime, Iran is a state that sponsors terrorism against Israel. It is the principal ally of Assad in Syria, and the main threat to the security of the region. And yet now they get away with all this simply via the election of a new president who smiles and says he wants peace.
Not a bad comeback for a pariah state.