US Democrats are Pushing Iran to the Corner
Ali Asghar Kazemi
February 3, 2009
In his first two weeks in office, Barack Obama sent an array of signals to various directions among which the Middle East and Iran are most vital spots to the new democrat president. In an interview with Al-Arabia, Obama implicitly invited Iran to come forward and get ready for direct dialogue with the United States. This offer might have been interpreted as a friendly gesture of the new president who had pledged to open direct negotiation without precondition with Iran in his presidential campaign. But, the reaction of the Islamic government pronounced by the hard-line president Ahmadinejad was rather cool and repulsive.
To what extent Iran is prepared to normalize relations with the United States? What are the consequences of such eventual rapprochement for Iran and the region? What are various scenarios that might emerge from the new US endeavor to solve the Iranian issue?
In tackling with the Middle East and Iran’s interrelated problems, the new democrat administration has to strike a delicate balance between two differing views i.e. that of Hillary Clinton and her associates which is harder than that of the president who promised to talk directly to Iran without preconditions. This however does not mean that there would be any difference between the two in the final account, in the sense that one is more proactive than the other leading to the same results. The ultimate objectives are: a) containing Iran’s appetite for power; and b) forcing it to take a more cooperative attitude vis-à-vis various problems of the region.
To that end, Americans are believed to be ready to use all available leverages including the use of hard power. The expected outcome would eventually make the situation much tougher for Iran’s defying stance pushing it to the corner in a manner to commit itself to some sort of bitter concessions on various pending issues including the nuclear project.
The new American approach may be shaped around the following facts and criteria:
1. Any viable solution to the Middle East problems including Israeli-Palestinian issue as well as Iraq and Afghanistan depend on settling Iran-US perennial quarrel;
2. The Islamic regime’s ties with radical movements in the Middle East and its defiance to this date to comply with the UN Security Council demands with respect to the nuclear enrichment issue are serious barriers to the settlement of all other issues in the region;
3. The United States alone cannot force Iran to adopt a cooperative stance merely by using hard power, especially after the awful quagmire created by the US military interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq;
4. Iranian leaders are more vulnerable to soft power effects such as diplomatic pressure and sanctions than military engagement, since this latter would consolidate all people behind the regime against the invader;
5. Gradual pressure through legitimate instruments may push the regime to the corner in such a way that it would finally surrender to the will of the international community.
Iran seems to be conscious of the fact and the plausible outcome of direct negotiations with the US will before anything disarm the Islamic regime of its most important ideological pillar. Besides that, as we said in our previous comments, Iranian conservative hard-line leaders firmly believe that their security and survival could not be secured through normalization of relations with the US. It is not much difficult to rationalize the apprehension of Iranian conservative hard-liners that in such circumstances, this would expose the regime’s vulnerability to US malicious covert operations for the purpose of toppling the revolutionary regime through “soft power.” Thus, instead, they would prefer to remain as rival to the United States by challenging American power and presence in the region.
Perhaps not incidentally, Mr. Ahmadinejad first reaction to Obama’s comment was rather cool. While he welcomed change in the new US democrat administration, he did not hesitate to emphasize that change should take place in the substance of American foreign policy and not in form. To that end, he went on to set a number of preconditions as prerequisites to any eventual direct talks. He said that the new president should take the following actions in order to show his good-will:
· The United States should excuse for its harmful deeds against Iran in the past 70 years;
· The United States should cease to support Israel ;
· The United States should withdraw all its forces from the region;
These unusual requests leave the impression that Iran is quite happy with the present hostile situation. As can be seen, the demands are so much impractical and unrealistic that can hardly be conducive to any logical arrangement in the foreseeable future. In effect, the Islamic president is willfully walking toward the trap skillfully laid by US democrats. By raising the costs of an eventual settlement, he is paving the way for the remnants of the neo-conservative hawks in the US Department of Defense to put forward the military option to the table of the new president.
Meanwhile the situation may give a good basis of justification for US democrats to take advantage of the case in order to reach a solid consensus in the UN Security Council in adopting harsh sanctions against Iran. Though the Islamic leaders claim that they don’t fear UN sanctions, there is no doubt that the country is susceptible to suffer severely in the wake of declining oil price and upcoming budget deficits.
Americans policy makers seem to realize that president Obama has little time to capitalize on his popularity in the United States and around the world for settling outstanding issues before things get out of control. Yet, they may be cautious not to open negotiations with Mr. Ahmadinejad, a subordinate of the supreme leader who has the final say in strategic decisions. Besides, this may give credit the incumbent president which will boost his position in the upcoming presidential elections next spring.
Thus, it is safe to say that the United States will either try to reach the supreme leader for an eventual effective dialogue or wait until the time the results of the elections are known. However, US may arrange to take part in some sort of collective talk with Iran along with 5+1 states. Meanwhile, US foreign policy will be directed towards exhausting all possible diplomatic avenues before it embarks on applying harsher measures. /
Ali Asghar Kazemi is professor of Law and International Relations in Tehran. For detail see: