Is sanctions relief really on the table?

The Guardian is reporting that a “reformulated” proposal including “limited sanctions relief” will be launched by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (p5+1) after the US presidential election.

Earlier this week Al-Monitor reported along the same lines and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made similar general comments. But according to Reza Marashi, a former Iran-desk State Department staffer, we’ll have to wait and see if the comments result in substantial changes on the part of the negotiating powers.

“The rhetoric we’re hearing from these unnamed U.S. and EU officials is positive, and it should be both praised and reinforced,” Marashi told Lobe Log. “But as we’ve learned over the past four years, actions speak louder than words for officials in Washington, Brussels and Tehran.”

Marashi noted that Western officials had already recognized the need for offering Iran a deal that it could sell at home “but domestic political realities forced the U.S. to move the goalposts.” If there is to be any real progress, it will happen after the US presidential election on November 6th. According to Marashi, “until then both sides recognize the need for better PR. We’re already seeing this on Iran’s end with Foreign Minister Salehi.”

“Both sides are spending political capital to shape the narrative in case talks fail, rather than spending the necessary political capital to ensure talks succeed,” he said.

Ever since negotiations resumed and began heading downhill this year, analysts have been saying that a successful deal requires sanctions relief to also be on the table. In July, former top CIA analyst Paul Pillar explained why the “Nothing-But-Pressure Fallacy” is doomed to fail if an acceptable deal for both sides is the objective:

 …And the story of stasis in the nuclear talks is also pretty simple. The Iranians have made it clear they are willing to make the key concession about no longer enriching uranium at the level that has raised fears about a “break-out” capability in return for sanctions relief. But the P5+1 have failed to identify what would bring such relief, instead offering only the tidbit of airplane parts and the vaguest of suggestions that they might consider some sort of relief in the future. The Iranians are thus left to believe that heavy pressure, including sanctions, will continue no matter what they do at the negotiating table, and that means no incentive to make more concessions.

But success from the declared US perspective (that is, verifiable moves from Iran showing that it will not build a nuclear weapon) also depends on what kind of, as well as how much sanctions relief is offered (consider George Perkovich’s comment at the end of Chris McGreal’s report); Iranian acceptance of the notion that the US will not seek regime change once Iran makes serious concessions; what Iran is willing and able to do to prove good and true intentions; and who is running the show in Iran and the US when the new deal is offered.

Regarding the last two points: sources say that this SPIEGEL interview with Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi where he implies that Iran could halt 20% enrichment (a major p5+1 requirement) in exchange for a guaranteed fuel supply echoes previous statements that Iranian officials have been making for quite some time. Iran-watchers have also been speculating that the country’s hardline leaders will not allow Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to achieve any diplomatic successes while he is in office and any deal is therefore only possible following his exit in June 2013.

Meanwhile, Jim reports for IPS News that earlier this week Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham said he is working on a new Congressional resolution which he hopes to pass in any lame-duck session after the Nov. 6 elections that would promise Israel U.S. support, including military assistance, if it attacks Iran. And after the new Congress convenes in January, Sen. Graham suggested he would push yet another resolution that would give the president – whether the incumbent, Obama, or his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney – broad authority to take military action if sanctions don’t curb Iran’s nuclear programme.

Not to mention the fact that while Iran’s economy and people continue to struggle under the weight of sanctions, the US and EU are piling more on, making the Iranian hope of an end to sanctions and the domestic suffocation at home, seem like a far away dream.


Jasmin Ramsey

Jasmin Ramsey is a journalist based in Washington, DC.