The US approach on Iran – sanctions and threats – will only drive Iran towards weaponization and undermine negotiations set for Jan. 21 in Turkey. A US-Iran deal, however, would allow Iran enrichment capabilities in exchange for a non-weapons pledge.
While “confidence-building” is the most important factor in the course of any nuclear negotiations which hope to succeed between Iran and the P5+1 group (the permanent members of the UN Security Council – US, Russia, China, Britain, France – plus Germany), the United States is talking about a new round of coercive sanctions against Iran. The US objective in continuing the “sanctions for negotiations” policy aims at weakening the “nuclear consensus” inside Iran. However, if successful, this policy would have the reverse result, since the unraveling of the nuclear consensus that now exists within Iran would halt any progress on the diplomatic front.
For Iran, maintaining the capacity for “independent uranium enrichment” on its own soil means acquisition of a nuclear “capability.” This endeavor is based on an important strategic objective around which all political blocs agree: the acceptance of Iran as a “nuclear state” by world powers. This consensus is a powerful, unassailable domestic reality that cannot be reversed. No political group in Iran today, reformist or otherwise, would dream of demanding the suspension of uranium enrichment.
Against the grain of this consensus, the US has sought the suspension of any uranium enrichment capacity by Iran. This inflexible policy differs from the views held by the other P5+1 countries, namely the EU trio (France, German, and the Britain), Russia, and China. These powers have gradually come to agree with Iran’s right to enrichment on its native soil. In the Geneva negotiations last December, this right was implicitly accepted by all parties, including by the United States, as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton noted just before the negotiations got under way.
Despite this, the US seems bent on trying to overturn that consensus both internationally and within Iran.
The US is pursuing a three-pronged policy.
First, it seeks to impose coercive economic sanctions. This policy is aimed at increasing economic pressure on President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s government, seeking thereby to expose its inefficiency in handling Iran’s everyday economic issues. Under this policy, the US hopes that economic turmoil will split the political elite from the public. Then, under heavy domestic pressure, the government will be forced to change its tough nuclear policy in order to have the punitive sanctions lifted.
Second, the US is mounting international pressure on Iran, pressing its allies and others to avoid expanding relations. This aspect of the policy aims at enhancing the perception of Iran’s isolation inside the country. Here, too, the hope is that the government will be forced to change its nuclear policy in order not to sacrifice Iran’s growing regional and global ties.
Third, by periodically announcing the possibility of a military threat, the US hopes to split Iranian public opinion by creating a sense of imminent attack by the US and/or Israel, thus creating pressure against Mr. Ahmadinejad’s nuclear stance in order to avoid war.