Next steps for a U.S.-Iranian deal are prescribed by Vali Nasr, writing again for Bloomberg. He notes that the “window for negotiations is narrow” while making bold recommendations in the context of the constrained environment President Obama has gotten himself into.
Nasr is one of only a few prominent analysts who are pushing the argument for the lifting of sanctions back into the Iran policy debate. By doing so he is working directly against the ceaseless “increase the pressure” on Iran chorus that is sung by Republicans and Democrats alike while offering little on what should follow. How often do we come across passages like the following these days?
Iran has already agreed to the Russian proposal, according to which Iran would address concerns of the international community one by one, each time in exchange for the lifting of a sanction. Iran’s leadership is interested in the idea, because it protects them from a scenario in which Iran is expected to make all the concessions upfront and is promised the benefits at the end. Iran would see this as a trap.
The U.S. has rejected the “step-by-step” approach because small concessions are reversible. As sanctions are lifted, Iran might feel less compelled to provide further concessions. In effect, such a piecemeal process would go only so far and then collapse under the weight of its own success.
Even so, there has to be credible reciprocity to build trust and create momentum in the talks. Trading a temporary freeze on uranium enrichment for a temporary freeze on oil sanctions serves as a useful first step. But with the full weight of sanctions yet to bear on Iran, the U.S. has the greatest leverage right now. It should use it to get Iran to talk about big concessions in exchange for meaningful reductions in sanctions.
The U.S. and its European allies, for their part, would need to be ready to lift significant sanctions. The U.S., separately, must be open to starting bilateral talks with Iran about regional security and the future of U.S.-Iran relations. Iran’s perception of opportunity and threat in its neighborhood is the principal reason it has invested its national security in the pursuit of nuclear capability.
Also, for reasons to be optimistic, read Barbara Slavin’s piece in the new web publication, AlMonitor (which unfortunately demands a exclusivity on Barbara’s journalistic work).