Resolution to Iran Nuclear Standoff Appears Possible but Requires Flexibility from both Sides

A new report from Iran’s hawkish Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS) suggests the Iranians may be more open to achieving a peaceful resolution to the dispute over their controversial nuclear program than ever before. “With Obama’s reelection Tuesday, there is guarded hope in Tehran and Washington that a solution agreeable to all parties in the nuclear standoff might finally be possible”, writes Jason Rezaian in the Washington Post:

The findings in the report suggest that the ministry has a pragmatic understanding of the challenges the country faces, the cost it is paying for continuing uranium enrichment at current levels, the threat of Israeli aggression and, perhaps most important, a way out of the stalemate.

Although the statement refers to Israel as the “Zionist regime,” it is otherwise devoid of the ideological tone that characterizes most ministry reports and that has been the Iranian norm for decades. Instead, the arguments in the 1,200-word report reflect many of the views agreed on by international advocates of a negotiated solution, namely that the potential destruction caused by strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities would set back the program by only a few years at most and that diplomacy is a preferred way forward.

But according to Ali Vaez, a senior analyst at the International Crisis Group, the Post may be reading too much into the report. “While Iran’s MOIS report provides a sober analysis of the current standoff, it doesn’t imply a different approach from the strategy Iran has been pursuing during the past decade. All one needs to do is to read the conclusion,” he said.

The conclusion reveals that Iran’s leaders do not fear an attack on their nuclear program because of their belief in the supremacy of Iran’s attack deterrent and self-defense capabilities. It says that war can be avoided through diplomacy or “military preparedness”.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration is reportedly likely to engage the Iranian government in direct negotiations in what would be a last-ditch diplomatic effort to head off a military strike on its nuclear facilities in the coming months.

But as Iran scholar Farideh Farhi points out, the key to moving the diplomatic process forward and avoiding a military conflict is flexibility on both sides:

Unless Khamenei and company are given a way out of the mess they have taken Iran into (with some help from the US and company), chances are that we are heading into a war in the same way we headed to war in Iraq. A recent Foreign Affairs article by Ralf Ekeus, the former executive chairman of the UN special Commission on Iraq, and Malfrid-Braut hegghammer, is a good primer on how this could happen.

The reality is that the current sanctions regime does not constitute a stable situation. First, the instability (and instability is different from regime change as we are sadly learning in Syria) it might beget is a constant force for policy re-evaluation on all sides (other members of the P5+1 included). Second, maintaining sanctions require vigilance while egging on the sanctioned regime to become more risk-taking in trying to get around them. This is a formula for war and it will happen if a real effort at compromise is not made. Inflexibility will beget inflexibility.

Jasmin Ramsey

Jasmin Ramsey is a journalist based in Washington, DC.