Posts Tagged ‘Nuclear’

Attention: Iran is happening.

Welcome back to al-Ra°yee, and I’ll spare you all the long-winded excuse for why the blog has been hibernating for the past several months. Egypt threw me a curve ball that I was wholly unprepared for, and picking up the pieces of a failed 8 month adventure abroad has left me “busy” for lack of another word. In any sense, it’s good to have you all back for the time being.

Rather than serve as a means to chronicle my escapades and discoveries abroad, this blog entry has found purpose elsewhere. Assuming that the majority of my readership is drawn from those friends and family members whose Facebook profiles I chronically creep occasionally look at, it appears that despite how politically-astute my network of acquaintances actually is, it is particularly quiet about certain issues in international relations that I find most pressing at the moment. Granted, the U.S. government did shut down, the ongoing Syrian civil war rages on, Egypt is still in democratic shambles, and Israel-Palestinian dialogues are fragilely underway, but I don’t see much commentary about Iran? You know, Iran: the Islamic Republic nestled between the two countries we fought in for over a decade, the country who’s upper political echelons frequently spewed anti-Israeli rhetoric and “Death to America” chants during the mid-2000’s , and the country that took 52 American diplomats hostage for 444 days in 1979/led Ben Affleck to accept more awards than any person who starred in Daredevil ever should? Well, not to be overly optimistic or dramatic, but the times are a’changin. The P5+1 (US, UK, France, China, Russia, Germany) and Iran are about to begin a second round of highly-unprecedented and highly-important discussions (after a widely-acclaimed first round of discussions that came close, but no cigar, to striking a deal) on the future of Iran’s nuclear program, and you should be waiting with bated breath as much as the rest of the DC international relations intelligentsia is.

To provide some background information, Iran’s recent presidential elections yielded a semi-moderate candidate named Hassan Rouhani. Though Rouhani touts a pragmatic and moderate political platform Hassan Rouhani chooses image of key to symbolise presidential campaigncharacterized by a desire to rejuvenate the economy, respect human rights, and mend international relations, he should not be considered a true reformist akin to the efforts of former presidents Khatami and Rafsanjani. Rouhani is a regime-insider in every sense of the word having served in various high-level positions within the Khamenei regime – including as Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator from 2003 to 2005. Rouhani was solely responsible for the last substantive nuclear deal cut between European powers and Iran in 2004 when he agreed to suspend Iran’s nuclear ambitions (much to the chagrin of Iranian hardliners) due to the widely-perceived fear of American regime change in the region. Rouhani’s experiences in the belly of the beast are not a bad thing, however. Having created an extensive network of internal regime contacts, confidants, and cohorts, Rouhani may very well possess the structural know-how and an intimate understanding of the limits of the Iranian presidency’s ability to actually elicit change. Rather than compete with the Supreme Leader on hot button issues — something his predecessors often did and failed at — Rouhani has ever-so-delicately pressed forward with his agenda while making sure to have the Supreme Leader’s blessing every step of the way. Rouhani’s leash is short and fleeting, however, and he faces widespread criticism from the status-quo hardliners who would sooner see Rouhani fold under domestic and international pressure for immediate results than actually work together to see Iran flourish like it once did. Should Rouhani fail to strike a nuclear deal soon (he is already over 100 days into his presidency, mind you), his critics at home may deem the efforts futile and revert back to a foreign policy strategy dominated by anti-Americanism and aversion to change.

iran-sanctions_0Problems and challenges to the rekindling of the relationship do not fall squarely on Tehran’s shoulders, however. Perhaps the single greatest barrier to substantively mended Iranian-American relations resides several miles down Constitution Avenue on Capitol Hill. Though the hard-hitting and invasive sanctions imposed on the Islamic Republic for several years have worked/succeeded in bringing Iran to the negotiating table, an assessment shared by myself and prominent Iran expert (and guest-lecturer in my US-Iran Relations class) Barbara Slavin states that the threat of additional congressional sanctions (proposed by the bellicose Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC), et al.) stands the chance to unravel all that has been achieved since Rouhani’s election. If sanctions have succeeded in illustrating for the Iranian regime that economic progress at home cannot be achieved without rapprochement with the West, then further sanctions in the wake of Iran coming to the negotiating table will only affirm to the Islamic Republic that the U.S. is not serious about coming to an agreement, that there is no incentive for them to concede any aspect of their nuclear program, and that our true motives are regime change or bust. Unfortunately, Congress’ track record for pushing through Iranian sanctions (such as those JUST PASSED in July, 2013) has a higher success rate (91%) than Peyton Manning’s current completion percentage (71%) thanks to special interests, foreign lobbying, and most significantly: ignorance. Now, rather than choc this one up to yet another ill-developed foreign policy of President Obama, it’s worth noting that the case of Iranian sanctions is something that the White House and Congress are decidedly at odds over. In fact in a recent Foreign Policy article, various State Department and White House officials condemned proposed congressional efforts for new sanctions on Iran as a “march to war” and went on to say that additional sanctions are unnecessary and could put us in a more difficult spot ….  it would play into the arguments of Iranian hardliners that the U.S. isn’t interested in a nuclear deal.

I get it, though. Skepticism and weariness of Rouhani are understandable. The West, and let’s not forget the Iranian people, endured eight venomous years under Ahmadinejad, and despite Rouhani’s election there are still regime hardliners who support an anti-Western foreign policy and generally anti-American attitude. However, for fear of reverting back to the same narrow-minded and ill-informed mentalities that have stunted U.S.-Iran relations for the past 40 years, we have to be willing to try something new now that a fruitful (and perhaps the most fruitful) opportunity has presented itself. We must be willing to extend an olive branch, let bygones be bygones, and have cautiously optimistic faith that Rouhani means what he says. For lack of having any better insight into what Rouhani and the Supreme Leader actually seek to accomplish, we must take their goodwill gestures and “international charm offensive” at face value. Gone are the days of Ahmadinejad making it easy for Americans to write off Iran as an oppressive, confrontational, and pariah nation of America and Israel haters, and we have unfortunately entered an era where the greatest obstacles to Iranian-American peace are the same individuals who would rather pout shut down their own government than negotiate with their fellow countrymen – much less a mullah from the Islamic Republic of Iran.

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