The West is pushing Iran to close the door on nuclear diplomacy. The so-called dual track approach has made the nuclear impasse more intractable than ever. A combination of sanctions and diplomacy, this approach was designed to encourage Iran to accept constraints on its nuclear activity. In effect, this strategy is comprised of one component: harsh punitive measures: sticks and no carrots.
The Obama administration has imposed the toughest sanctions on Tehran in the history of Iran-US relations, while engaging in even fewer diplomatic negotiations with Iran than the Bush administration. The US has exerted more pressure on Iran than on North Korea, which withdrew from the NPT and even tested atomic weapons. Dual track is really a single track towards strangling the regime.
The past few months testifies that the West has deliberately turned a blind eye to Iran’s confidence-building measure. Iran opened its doors to the IAEA, allowing the team to visit Iran’s heavy water facilities and centrifuge production and R&D centers – an initiative that went beyond the Additional Protocol. Iran also declared its readiness to place its nuclear program under ‘full IAEA supervision’ for five years, provided that sanctions against Iran were lifted.
Another overture was President Ahmadinejad’s proposal at the UN General Assembly meeting signaling Iran’s willingness to immediately stop uranium enrichment to 20 percent if Iran were given fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor. (This was tangible proof that Iran is not seeking highly enriched uranium for military purposes). Iran’s ambassador at the IAEA and the foreign minister reiterated the offer numerous times – to no avail. Finally, Iran released two American hikers, accused of espionage after two years imprisonment as a goodwill gesture.
The West’s reaction? Iran was accused of plotting to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador in Washington based on flimsy evidence; the EU expanded its Iran sanctions list to include 29 officials; and US Congress proposed new bills imposing additional unilateral sanctions on Iran and prohibiting US diplomats from communicating with their Iranian counterparts. And finally, the IAEA released its most damning report on the alleged military dimension of Iran’s nuclear activities amid the international media’s hysteria. Given these dynamics, is it realistic to expect that Iranian decision-makers should trust the Western countries and their intentions?
In his memoir, ElBaradei said he doubted policy makers in Washington were ever truly interested in resolving the Iranian nuclear issue, but that they sought instead to achieve regime change in Iran. Regime change is what lies at the heart of the nuclear conflict. There is no hard evidence that Iran is seeking nuclear weapon capability – the New York Times recently reported that US intelligence agencies do not believe that has wants to build a bomb. The idea that Iran wants a bomb is intended to generate fear – fear translates into justification for attacking Iran. And war is not about destroying Iran’s alleged nuclear program – it’s about toppling the regime. And regime change is not about democracy. The US only stands for human rights and democratization when and where it suits its interests.
The way forward is what the Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs calls a ‘win-win strategy’. For Iran: recognition of Iran’s right to uranium enrichment under the NPT; for the West: maximum transparency and cooperation from Iran, according to the NPT. If suspension of enrichment is the Western goal, the impasse will persist. Nearly 8,000 centrifuges are now spinning in Iran. It is unrealistic to expect the Iranians to close down their facilities. This should be followed by direct dialogue between Tehran and Washington for the nuclear issue will never be resolved unless Iran and the US put aside their historical grievances. It is high time US-Iran’s matured into an adult relationship. Only then can we hope to see the wall of mistrust crumble.
* This article was first published in the 24 March 2012 edition of Portuguese Daily Expresso