by Peter Jenkins
The statements of US Senators and Representatives on the November 24 Iran/E3+3 Joint Plan have tended to be flawed in at least two ways.
First, Iran continues to be portrayed as a state that only responds to pressure and threats. This betrays a failure to grasp the nature of the changes ushered in by the election of Hassan Rouhani and by his appointment of Mohammad Javad Zarif as Foreign Minister and chief nuclear negotiator.
Both Rouhani and, especially, Zarif are familiar to Western diplomats from the nuclear negotiations that took place between October 2003 and July 2005, and from Zarif’s long spell as Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations.
In March 2005, Zarif made an offer to the UK, France and Germany that resembles the understandings reached on Nov. 24 in many respects. At that time Iran was not groaning under the weight of US and UN nuclear-related sanctions.
Rouhani and Zarif are not men who cringe when threatened or who buckle under pressure. They are men of character who realise that it was foolish and wrong of Iran to conceal certain nuclear activities from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) prior to the autumn of 2003, who understand that this “policy of concealment” damaged Iran’s international reputation and prestige, and who have resolved to do whatever is necessary, within reason, to repair that damage and restore Iran to what they believe to be Iran’s rightful place in the world.
They concluded ten years ago that the way to achieve those objectives was to put a stop, using the authority of Iran’s Supreme Leader, to Iran’s fledgling nuclear weapons program (initiated not in order to destroy Israel but, defensively, to counter Saddam Hussein when it was learnt that he was developing nuclear weapons); to extend proactive cooperation to the IAEA; and to accept limitations on Iran’s nuclear activities, as long as those do not entail humiliation for Iran or the permanent sacrifice of international rights.
So all US politicians whose reasoning starts from an assumption that Iran seeks nuclear weapons, or cooperates only to deceive, or, like North Korea, cares nothing for its reputation, or is dedicated to the destruction of Israel, are mistaken. And that mistake vitiates their policy prescriptions and their tactical recommendations.
Of course Rouhani and Zarif represent the more moderate segment of Iranian opinion. In Iran’s elite there are some whose strategic outlook is more ideological and presents a greater threat to regional peace and US interests. But the whole course of Iran’s political evolution since 1979 suggests that the hard-line element in the elite is shrinking. The majority have lost their revolutionary zeal, their desire to export Iran’s revolution. The Islamic Republic is now predominantly a conservative, status quo state, which fights to defend its interests, not to spread its Islamic values; there are analogies with the political evolution of the USSR.
With such powers negotiation is possible; common ground can be found; and agreements can be sealed in the expectation that the opposing party will stick to its side of the bargain, out of self-interest. Such powers do not need to be bullied and harassed into making deals that are consistent with their sense of dignity and their strategic objectives.
A second feature of many Congressional reactions to the Joint Plan is the utter heartlessness and indifference to human distress.
The existing sanctions regime is inflicting hardship on millions of innocent Iranians, people as decent as the US citizens who elect US Representatives and Senators. US sanctions are no longer targeting those who were responsible for Iran’s policy of nuclear concealment. They are therefore unjust.
That injustice is compounded by the fact that sanctions have become unnecessary.
Most people accept that states may behave unethically, if the aim is to stamp out a threat to human safety. But in this case Iran’s nuclear activities no longer threaten the security of other states, and Iran’s new government is signalling for all to see that it has no intention of ever posing a nuclear threat. So sanctions have become redundant, an unjust superfluity.
In these circumstances advocating additional sanctions is callous and cruel, unworthy of a nation that has long prided itself on being a moral beacon, on occupying the moral high ground in the community of nations.
And that’s not all. Congressional attachment to sanctions demonstrates indifference to the interests of European and Asian allies. Europe and Asia have suffered economically from the imposition of sanctions. Consumers and business-people were ready to pay that price to prevent Iran becoming nuclear-armed. They are not ready to pay it to humour an Israeli hysteric or Saudi autocrats.
It would be nice to think that, in so healthy a democracy, US voters will exact retribution from Congressional enthusiasts for sanctions that are no longer justified. Fat chance?
Photo Credit: ISNA/Mehdi Ghasemi