Iran finally seems ready to cut a deal with the West on its nuclear program—it’s just a matter of the West being ready to do the same. The United States needs to suppress its historic distrust of post-revolutionary Iran and see this as the opportunity to develop a working relationship.
Ignore Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu crying wolf. President Hassan Rouhani has been given a mandate by the Iranian people to reach an agreement with the West. The sanction regime has made it almost impossible to do business within Iran, especially with the country facing a severe currency shortage. Despite what Iran hawks like Netanyahu claim, Supreme Leader Khamenei needs to respect the will of the people to maintain his legitimacy. With everyday Iranians struggling to make ends meet, continued confrontation with the West is no longer a viable option.
Looking at the power structure within Iran, it is also important to recognize how close Rouhani is with former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, a major voice for moderation and pragmatism. Rafsanjani threw his considerable support behind Rouhani after his own candidacy was denied by Khamenei through the Guardian Council. Although Rafsanjani was essential to Khamenei’s ascension to the position of Supreme Leader, he is now at odds with Khamenei over the best way forward. With Rafsanjani’s triumphant return to Iranian politics, Khamenei faces a strong coalition of moderates, led by one of Iran’s cagiest pragmatists.
In talks at Geneva this week, Iran is talking about an agreement that will create a “trust-building road map with the [West].” While it’s clear that Iran is not about to give up its nuclear program, Iranian negotiators are saying they want to explore ways to make the Iranian program more transparent, and in return for enhanced inspection, regimes ask the West to lift the sanctions. The conversation Iran wants to have is about stockpiles, percentages, and inspection schedules. If the United States and Russia could agree to an inspection regime able to reassure each other about the other’s capabilities after the Cold War, it is difficult to see why such a system could not be established for Iran.
Furthermore, Iran developed much of its nuclear capacity on its own, with most of its technological advancement taking place under sanctions. It is foolish to think that Iran will unlearn its nuclear technology. Well-crafted and rigorous inspection regimes for Iran already exist and can ensure full compliance with any agreement, especially with the threat of automatic resumption of sanctions lurking in the background. Iran will probably continue to have “breakout capacity”—the ability to rapidly produce a nuclear weapon—but with a tough inspection regime, Western and Israeli leaders will have the information they need to make informed decisions regarding Iran’s capabilities and intentions.
It will no doubt be difficult for the United States to trust Iran and vice versa, both during and after negotiations. But an effective agreement will accomplish U.S. objectives and provide a basis for improved relations on a host of other issues.
First, by regulating and preventing the full militarization of the Iranian program, Israel will be safe from an Iranian nuclear holocaust. Israel is right to fear a hostile, nuclear Iran. An agreement on the nuclear issue will be the first step on eliminating the hostility between the West (Israel) and Iran, while also de-fanging the Iranian program.
Iran is also the chief ally of the terrorist organization Hezbollah and the Assad regime in Syria. It is likely any agreement will be narrow and focus solely on the nuclear question, leaving out these complicated issues. But it will be hard for Iran to be on friendlier terms with the West and also support Hezbollah and ship weapons to Assad. Hopefully a nuclear agreement will encourage Iran to adjust its cost-benefit analysis of its allies.
A stronger West-Iran relationship will hopefully also encourage democratizing elements in Iran and prevent rigged elections like those seen in 2009. Perhaps such an agreement would make it harder for the Guardian Council to only approve conservatives and pressure the Council to allow moderate candidates like Rouhani to run.
Finally, an agreement would strengthen the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Using the NPT as the basis for an agreement and related inspections will prevent further deterioration of an already weak treaty regime and discourage other countries from violating their obligations.
By many accounts, the talks in Geneva have been productive, and all parties are staking out realistic bargaining positions. After decades of distrust, it will be hard for the West to believe in Iran’s sincerity and agree to Iran’s right to nuclear production. But, Rouhani will only be able to cut a deal if the West meets him halfway. No journey begins without taking the first step, and the journey to normal relations with Iran lies in a nuclear deal.
Is this what passes for intelligent commentary at Georgetown?
“Ignore Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu crying wolf.” Really? Whether or not Netanyahu is ultimately right or wrong about Iranian intentions, the Iranians clearly pose a threat to Israel and the lives of its people. Given the public statements of Iranian leaders about obliterating Israel, Netanyahu is not “crying wolf.” Of course, the piece itself contradicts this statement: “Israel is right to fear a hostile, nuclear Iran.” I am left to believe that the author doesn’t know what “crying wolf” really means.
“Perhaps such an agreement would make it harder for the Guardian Council to only approve conservatives and pressure the Council to allow moderate candidates like Rouhani to run.”
“Moderate”? This is too silly to even contemplate. Rouhani may not be a firebrand like Ahmedinejad, but “moderate” he ain’t. Think he cares about the lashing of Christians for taking the eucharist? Nope. Didn’t think so.
“President Hassan Rouhani has been given a mandate by the Iranian people to reach an agreement with the West.” Ah yes, a “mandate” from the people. And in other news Kim Jong-un has a mandate from the North Korean people.
“Despite what Iran hawks like Netanyahu claim, Supreme Leader Khamenei needs to respect the will of the people to maintain his legitimacy.” Hmmmm. We say that Supreme Leader Khamenei has “legitimacy”, but then talk about “rigged elections.”