Tehran’s Charm Offensive Will Work Iran's nuclear ambitions will not worry the West that much, once America and Europe become convinced that the ayatollahs have become friendly

By Paolo von Schirach

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November 30, 2013

WASHINGTON – Secretary of State John Kerry just repeated that the US policy goal on Iran is to make sure that the Tehran government will never acquire nuclear weapons.  Given this objective, the Obama administration has presented the recent interim agreement reached in Geneva with Iran as a major step in that direction. “Well, we did not get everything we wanted”, claims Washington, “But we got a temporary halt to the enrichment process pursued by the Iranians”.  So, based on Washington’s declared goals, we should expect a Geneva 2 agreement to include the dismantling or at least the beginning of the dismantling on Iran’s nuclear program. 

Iran’s charm offensive

But what Kerry restated is at best disingenuous, for this is not at all where we are headed. (See link above to a related piece). Leaving aside the technicalities of the interim agreement signed in Geneva, it is clear to all that this deal does not even begin to stop, let alone scrap the Iranian nuclear program. It only places it on a temporary hold. Therefore this is at best a cosmetic concession on the part of the Tehran government. The enrichment now on hold can be restarted at any time, with minimal effort.

Plenty of smiles

The reality is that Iran is seeking a new, more relaxed political relationship with the West. Under this new cover it will be much easier to pursue their nuclear goals. Hence high profile, but zero substance, negotiations, and small concessions via deals that can be portrayed as “diplomatic victories” by Washington, and plenty of smiles for the photographers. But all this is just public relations. This is a clever way to assuage fears as to Iran’s overall political intentions towards the West. And, from this vantage point, style matters just as much as substance. Gone is the bellicose “Death to America” language. Now we have plenty of smiles and polite words. Bit by bit, president Hassan Rouhani is laying the ground work. Iran is carefully “rebranding” itself. The new message to Washington is: “Look at us. We are really nice people. So, do not worry too much about a future in which we may get nuclear capabilities. We are not crazy fanatics. We shall behave responsibly. So nothing to fear from us”. 

Change perceptions

And this is the smart thing to do. True enough, in the end the problem is not about “nuclear weapons”. The problem is about who controls them. One thing is a nuclear arsenal controlled by Britain; quite another a similar or even much smaller arsenal controlled by al Qaeda. We trust the British Government to act responsibly. Whereas, based on experience, we assume the worst when it comes to al Qaeda.

Nice Iran

By the same token, we are afraid of an Iranian nuclear arsenal because, based on experience, we believe that Iran would use its nuclear weapons to intimidate and coerce its neighbors. But what if President Rouhani manages to convince Washington that Iran has changed, that from now on it will behave rationally and responsibly? Well, if he succeeds, that changes things. Of course, one could still question the reason for such a reformed Iran to feel the need to have nuclear weapons. And may be on this delicate issue the Iranians will continue to be clever by retaining their capabilities to obtain weapons grade material fairly quickly, without actually doing so. This way, they will be feared for their inherent capability to get nuclear weapons, without being in flagrant violation of the Non Proliferation Treaty.

I have no idea as to how exactly Iran wants to play this. But it seems to me that if  Tehran’s end game is still to become a nuclear power, this charm offensive is a pretty clever way to get there. Again, to the extent that Iran now looks “responsible”, then why should everybody worry so much about the possibility that down the line Iran will acquire nuclear weapons? China has nuclear weapons. Russia has them, and so do India and Pakistan. And yet we do not stay up all night fearing a nuclear attack coming from any of  them. If our perception of Tehran’s intentions changes, why should we worry so much about Iranian nuclear weapons?

Indeed. Why should we?

President Rouhani likely to succeed

So, here is the unfolding scenario. Whatever Secretary Kerry may say about Washington’s steadfast determination to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, America is not even remotely prepared to go to war to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities. At the same time, Iran is not going to give up its vast nuclear program.

So, in the end there will be an Iran with nuclear weapons, or something very close to this. If Iranian President Rouhani is as clever as he seems to be, he will manage to have his cake and eat it too. If his charm offensive will work, eventually he will get nuclear weapons capability for Iran –with Washington’s silent acquiescence. 




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