Reading Between the Iranian Lines

In a recent interview meant to reassure the international community Dr. Ali Akbar Salehi, the Head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran in Tehran, managed to accomplish exactly the opposite. He claimed that the recent partial interruptions to nuclear activity had been entirely voluntary and were predetermined internally. Not only this, he explicitly downplayed the role economic sanctions and negotiations, and more specifically the Geneva interim agreement, played in achieving these results. Salehi went on to extol the millennia-old achievements and virtues of the Iranian nation and effectively challenged the United States to violate the Geneva deal which temporarily lifts a set of economic sanctions, arguing that if that were to be the case, Iran would restart producing 20% enriched uranium again. Finally, he accused the IAEA (and indirectly the Israel and the U.S.) of not expressing genuine concerns, and using Iran’s nuclear activity merely as an excuse to put pressure on the Middle-Eastern country.

The tone of the interview is without a doubt very worrying. The vigor of this “us vs. the rest of the world” motive in particular is cause for concern. Many political pundits forecasted that with the election of Hassan Rouhani and, perhaps more importantly, the quiet exit of Ahmadinejad, Iranian official declarations would drastically change. However, while great strides have been made in other respects (Joint Plan of Action, easing of visa concessions, etc.), very little has changed as far as the rhetoric regarding Iran’s nuclear activity is concerned. Why do you think that is? Might it be that the Iranian administration still wishes to pander to local extremist factions or that the sanctions ultimately did have a crippling effect on the economy? Or is there some other underlying reason? — Tommaso

25 thoughts on “Reading Between the Iranian Lines

  1. I have noticed this same hard-line rhetoric, both in the interview with Dr. Ali Akbar Salehi and in other public appearances by Iranian leaders since the interim nuclear deal. Furthermore, in a panel I attended with Prof. Mousavian shortly after the nuclear deal, he made this same argument, arguing that the interim deal was a victory for Iran and a demonstration of the West’s change in policy, from “Iran will not be allowed to enrich any uranium” to “Iran will only be allowed to enrich uranium for civilian purposes.”

    I think that this rhetoric can be explained by the fact that negotiations are still underway for a final deal between the P5+1 and Iran. The interim deal is just that, an interim deal, so I think that what we are witnessing is a PR strategy to assert strong positions while the final-deal negotiations are underway, in an effort by the Iranians to make a final deal as close to their ideal as possible.

    In addition, people spoke a great deal about Rouhani’s election signaling a huge move towards more moderate policies, but in the Iranian government, it is the Supreme Leader Khomeini, and his tone has remained constant over recent months. Ultimately, this all goes to show the necessity of a final deal between the West and Iran. As groundbreaking as the interim deal was, it is a small first step towards resolving this issue to create a safer world, and I sincerely hope that the final-round negotiations are successful.

  2. The rhetoric in this interview was indeed worrying, albeit not unexpected given the Iranian government’s previous public statements on the topic. What I found most troubling about the interview was Dr. Salehi’s allegation that the IAEA is only using its concerns about and investigations into Iran’s nuclear program “as an excuse to put pressure on Iran, a political pressure.” Iran’s statement reveals its blatant mistrust of verification procedures that it itself has agreed to, with harrowing consequences for the international nuclear non-proliferation movement. Iran’s mistrust completely undermines the purpose and procedure of legal verification methods, such as on-site inspections, since it implies an incentive to hide information during inspections and a willingness to deny the validity of post-inspection reports. Iran’s hostility to the IAEA ultimately means that illegal nuclear verification methods, such as reconnaissance and “national technical means” will still remain the more effective means of inspection for “rogue states” such as Iran, even though such methods are more morally questionable. Iran’s stand also means that considering a preemptive or preventive strike may be the only way to credibly enforce the nuclear non-proliferation regime, as Matthew Kroenig argues. However, while Kroenig takes a more hawkish stance, he concludes that “fortunately, the situation is not yet at [the point]” where the U.S. must use force to prevent Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons. But what/when is that tipping point? When does using force (in the form of a preemptive/preventive attack) against Iran become justified and even necessary?

  3. I was also very concerned after I read this interview, especially Salehi’s comment that it will only take “a few hours” for Iran to recover and restart producing 20% enriched uranium if the Geneva deal is broken. After reading this, and then reading Matthew Kroenig’s article, I wonder how far we let Iran go before we use force? Kroenig makes a good argument that the U.S. can’t just do nothing and let Iran build up its nuclear capabilities, for that will result in a constant threat of nuclear attack against the U.S. However (playing devil’s advocate), if we do attack Iran, what will the repercussions be against America? While Kroenig claims that destroying Iran’s nuclear facilities will potentially prevent them from trying to acquire nuclear weapons, how can this be certain? And even if the attack buys the U.S. more time to prepare for a nuclear-armed Iran, what will it take to justify another nuclear attack, especially in the eyes of the public?

  4. It is agreed that the best case scenario would be diplomatic resolution. However, global concerns seem to be increasing about the actual probability of such deal. Intense negotiations are currently still under way in Geneva right now, however it has been announced that US Secretary of State, John Kerry, will be leaving Geneva this morning, with or without a deal, which doesn’t sounds promising.

    There still remains no guarantee of an Iranian nuclear deal and the negotiators may not reach an final agreement for another couple months. Additionally, if diplomatic push fails, Tehran could resume the expansion of nuclear activities leading to more sanctions or, in Kroenig’s point of view, military actions.

    Kroenig brings up President Obama’s position on a nuclear-armed Iran and quotes that Iran is “not a challenge that can be contained” and that the US is prepared to do “everything required to prevent it”. However, the validity of Obama’s threat is questioned among many.

    Is the threat of military action enough of a deterrence strategy for Iran? Kroenig brings up an important question: Does this use of force have a reasonable chance of success, and is it superior to available alternatives?

  5. I find it interesting that Salehi uses this hard-line rhetoric when there’s an increasing amount of support for the hawkish (Kroenig) view. That is, more and more people agree that the US should attack Iran to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons capabilities. Even Obama, says Kroenig, is beginning to support this view. If this is the case, I would have imagined the Iranians would be a little more cautious and conciliatory in their statements. I doubt these bold claims will soothe US worries and may in fact lead to even more support for forceful intervention.

  6. From Iran’s perspective, nuclear weapon development is not something that they can easily give up. For a successful negotiation, the potential benefits of giving up the nuclear program and the disadvantages of holding onto it must outweigh the benefits of continuing the program. There’s a lot of political influence Iran can gain from having nuclear weapon capabilities, and this is very visible from how much tension and concerns it had brought among the international communities in the past years. Even if they do not intend to develop nuclear weapons, as they claim, the potential of quickly developing weapons from the enriched uranium is quite threatening to the West, especially considering the political differences. However, I believe that sanctions and international pressures had some influence in their decisions. Even if the sanction wasn’t that effective, as Salehi claims, it should have brought some effects and pushed them to at least consider the possible tradeoffs they have to make, should they resist to negotiations. I feel like the little compromise they had made – which only lasts for six months – is simply their way to allay the West and prevent “us” from making extreme decisions. Salehi admits that Iran can quickly go back to its initial agenda within few hours, should the negotiation fail, or end without any extensions. I agree with Kroenig that no time-limited negotiations are ever going to stop Iran from having the potential of developing nuclear weapons. Negotiations that are happening right now, are only prolonging the possible nuclear development in Iran, but it will never fully ensure non-proliferation in the region. And I believe Iran understands this, and is therefore making half-hearted conditional agreements while fully intending to continue with the program.

  7. I don’t entirely agree with Kroenig, and you make a good point as to why. First of all, I do not think that Iranian nuclear capability is a direct threat to the United States, but an indirect one. They do not have the delivery infrastructure (ICBMs, Submarines, Heavy Stealth Bombers, etc.) to attack the United States. They do, however, have a line of bellicose rhetoric aimed at Israel and our European allies, which could drag us into conflict.

    Either way, the use of force to bring about destruction is not necessarily a good move. At present, they are in development of nuclear material, but are open to negotiation and to admitting their aims. We can monitor their progress to some extent, and have the opportunity to potentially monitor it to a much greater degree in the future. If we use force, however, all potential channels of communication are lost. They will probably continue to build, but there will no longer be a negotiating table and they will have been made much more hostile to the United States.

    To take that point further, there is strong anti-conservative sentiment building in Iran, which serves our needs. The election of Rouhani demonstrates that support for the old regime, including the Ayatollah, is–at least to some degree–waning. This may make public sentiment more likely to favor the United States, unless we use force against their country’s attempts to build infrastructure in accordance with what they perceive as their sovereign rights. We cannot afford to lose public sentiment and measures of pursuing Iranian accountability by using force, unless absolutely necessary.

  8. I felt that the interview and Kroenig’s article highlighted well the difficulty of using negotiation and diplomacy to control a nation’s nuclear program. I believe that if a nation is determined to develop its nuclear program, there is very little one can actually do to stop it short of the use of force. UN resolutions can be ignored and even the effectiveness of economic sanctions is questionable. The sanctions already in existence has not prevented countries like North Korea or Iran in their attempts to develop nuclear programs and it is questionable whether further sanctions will have significant results. This presents a problem for the United States if we assume that Iran is in this state where the maintaining of its nuclear program is at its core national interests, especially if the goal of the U.S. is the permanent and complete termination of Iran’s nuclear program.

    Agreements can and have been reached but I believe it is unlikely any permanent deal that terminates Iran’s nuclear program will ever be reached.
    The question then becomes whether the U.S. is willing to use force and if so, at what point. The use of force comes with its own set of disadvantages, and can be even be used by the Iranian government to garner public support by presenting themselves as the “victim”. By taking a tough rhetoric in his interview, Salehi is perhaps trying to signal that Iran is not going to be coerced into brokering the deal and it is not in the interest of the U.S. to continue trying to do so.

  9. . Although I can understand Kroneig’s call for action against the Iranian nuclear program which Dr. Salehi’s interview would only strengthen, I do not agree with it. At this point in time, Iran is still willing to communicate about their nuclear program as seen by this interview. We are capable of monitoring it in some manner. It seems they are not a direct threat but rather seem to have larger enemies, such as Israel, which is obviously still an American ally but not our homeland. An attack on their nuclear program would eliminate any communication between us and only escalate the U.S. as a target, of nuclear or convention weapons.

    Diplomatic negotiations represent the best plan of action as it ensures the possibility of continued cooperation, no matter the level. It is known that the U.S. backs Israel and with that backing comes our immense military and nuclear power. There is no logical need for a preemptive strike.

  10. I agree with Kroenig that diplomacy seems to be less and less likely with Iran. Although they are trying to communicate with us, it is difficult to tell what exactly they are up too. While I believe the US should negotiate with the Iranians from a position of greater strength, it seems difficult diplomatically when we continue to have nuclear weapons. Iran wants what we already have. I am not at all advocating disarming all of our nuclear weapons, it just seems more and more likely that this situation will end in attack.

  11. I’m a bit skeptical of Kroenig’s assessment of Iranian nuclear capabilites – I’d like to know from which sources he gains his information, considering he discusses bomb development with the assumption of certain time frames – frames which would require classified information to determine. Any war or “pre-emptive strike” would have to be as a last resort, considering that the last thing America needs is to become embroiled in another Middle Eastern conflict.
    I can understand Dr. Salehi’s perspective, although I vehemently disagree with it. Iran feels that the US has no right to tell it what to do, especially when denying a privilege that the US itself enjoys. It also suggests a certain amount of chest-pounding, for the purposes of, as stated above, pandering to extremist factions and general anti-Western sentiment. I would surmise that the sanctions were actually quite effective – why on Earth would the regime purposefully stop its own progress? – and that this is a poorly employed reverse psychology tactic. Iran could go a lot further by reassuring the world that Hassani Rouhani is in charge, and the Ayatollah no longer calls all the shots.
    That being said, both the Iranians and America know how this conflict is going to end – either Iran gives up, or they get attacked. Is Dr. Salehi aware of this? I’d guess “yes,” as he was smart enough to be appointed the Head of the AEIO, but doesn’t want to admit it. Previously, Iran was not open to any negotiations at all – the fact that our governments are even talking is a resounding accomplishment. Keep with the diplomacy until it’s clear things are not going to work out – don’t try to second-guess if you don’t have all the information.

  12. Under the Geneva deal, Iran was also supposed to limit its uranium enrichment to under 5%, and “neutralize” its 20% enriched uranium stockpiles. Uranium can be used for nuclear reactors at these levels, but recently Akbar also announced that Iran would go ahead with enriching all the way up to 60%. I think this should raise a couple red flags since this level of enrichment blows way past anything they had agreed to earlier, although it is not quite weapons-grade so it is still not enough for the West to intervene immediately. To me, this sort of probing seems pretty provocative, as they clearly don’t need these high levels of purity for straightforward energy research purposes. This is also in line with his plan for Iran’s centrifuge program. The delays placed on the program have been interpreted by both Akbar and others as implicit acceptance on the part of the US that Iran’s nuclear program can continue (ie by acknowledging that they must wait six months, the US accepts that after six months pass, Iran can proceed). Some of Iran’s actions seem to be intended to goad a US response, and Iran wants to play the martyr card (US trampling their freedoms) in order to gain support from other developing countries in the region and abroad. I think the US needs to be extremely careful with how they handle Iran and not take the bait, since a conflict now could be extremely destabilizing to both the middle east and eastern Europe.

  13. I’m not quite sure that I follow your point regarding the difficulty of U.S. negotiations with Iran. While the U.S. may be struggling to come to sort of diplomatic agreement with Iran in the present state, with the U.S. possessing nuclear strike capabilities and Iran lacking such power, certainly the diplomatic negotiations would not become any easier if the U.S. were to relinquish such nuclear power or Iran were to acquire it.

    Also, you mention that the situation will likely end in attack, given this current disparity between the U.S. and Iran’s nuclear capabilities, Iran’s desire to lessen this gap in nuclear capability, and the U.S.’s conflicting interest of inhibiting the proliferation of nuclear weapons across the world and in the Middle East. While this situation is possible, I do not think it is necessarily probable, given the negative consequences that might occur as a result of a U.S. attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities:

    1. The attack would likely incite more anti-U.S. sentiment in Iran.

    2. The attack might be widely unpopular among U.S. citizens.

    3. The attack might destabilize the region, inviting more countries to get involved militarily.

    Given these potential negative consequences of such an attack, I do not think that an attack by the U.S. on Iran is a likely one.

  14. I feel that what both Kroenig’s article and the interview with Dr. Salehi help to make blatantly clear is the continuing distrust between Iran and members of the P5 +1. While the interim Geneva deal does mark a step forward in building a better working relationship between the two parties, there is clearly still a long way to go. This lack of faith is evident in Kroenig’s piece when he airs his concerns about Iran reneging on its commitments should they make a comprehensive deal with the P5 +1. In addition, Salehi’s rhetoric does little to help build any sort of faith between the two parties (as several other people have pointed out in this discussion). For instance, I agree with mremick that Salehi’s comments regarding the time frame in which Iran’s nuclear centrifuges could be back up in running are worrisome. Unless a more stable atmosphere of trust and communication is created between Iran and the P5 + 1, it appears that for the time being negotiations between the two can only go so far. Therefore, the Geneva talks can currently be viewed as only a small step on a long journey, and as long as the path to a comprehensive deal remains unfinished the use of force by the United States will continue to remain a viable option.

  15. The implication of the readings and several of the posts so far is that
    this is essentially a two-sided issue with Iran one one side and every
    other country on the other. Lo and behold, things are (or, at the very
    least, can become) extremely complicated quickly. For instance, the
    Kroenig article appears to be addressed to US policymakers alone and
    indicates the US is the only country that can respond with force to an
    Iran that seeks to acquire bombs. Israel not only may (reasonably) feel
    more threatened by a nuclear Iran than the US would (as ConnorM points
    out below), but they have given stronger indicators that they will
    attack Iranian nuclear capabilities if they approach certain red lines
    (http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/07/14/us-nuclear-israel-iran-idUSBRE96D08H20130714).
    On top of this, Israel has a precedent for striking at regional nuclear
    facilities it sees as a threat; it struck a French-made reactor in Iraq
    in 1981 (super legit scholarly source:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Opera) and, more recently, an
    undeclared nuclear facility in Syria in 2007 (other scholarly source:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Orchard). Since Israel is not a
    US puppet, it is entirely possible that the situation could be taken out
    of the US’s hands if Israel perceives that Iran has crossed red lines
    and responds with strikes.

    On the same broad topic of the
    context outside the US-Iran dynamic, Middle Eastern nations besides Iran
    also stand in a delicate position. It was curious to see the
    interviewer ask about Iran’s willingness to help Saudi Arabia and the
    UAE develop nuclear power since Saudi Arabia is vying with Iran (and
    possibly Turkey) for becoming the dominant player in the region. If Iran
    acquires a nuclear weapon, the Saudis will probably be the first in
    line to develop their own capabilities or acquire stronger backing /
    weapons from their good friends, the US. (Of course, the US would not
    hand over nuclear weapons to Saudi Arabia in these circumstances, but
    other military tools like advanced aircraft and anti-missile technology
    would be feasible.) In light of this situation, it is possible that the
    Saudis would suffer a “radar malfunction” (or something of that sort)
    that would allow Israeli planes to cross Saudi airspace and strike at
    Iranian nuclear facilities. This is not to say such an event is probable
    but only to note that the Saudis may also have an interest in forceful
    action to prevent Iran’s technological ascension. The question then
    becomes how long and in what circumstances the US (and others in the
    P5+1) can keep the situation under control until some other party
    (including US allies) performs some unilateral act of force.

  16. I absolutely agree, as most do, that diplomatic negotiations are the best option as of now, but what Kroneig is essentially saying, and what I believe to be a more practical analysis of the circumstances, is that such negotiations have been mostly unsuccessful up to this point, and there is no good reason to believe they will ultimately work. (As Dr. Salehi insists in the interview, any movements away from the escalation of the nuclear program in Iran have been voluntary, not a result of outside intervention, and that such measures were pre-agreed upon.)
    That such negotiations “ensure the possibility of continued cooperation” is only true insofar as the negotiations themselves culminate in mutually-satisfying agreements – on our end, that Iran never acquires nuclear weapons. But reaching that goal seems unlikely, meaning the Iranian nuclear program may end up with weapons in their hands, at which point said “cooperation” comes to a screeching halt. The US finds itself facing a nuclear-armed Iran, what President Obama has called “not a challenge that can be contained.” It is for this reason that we must realistically consider the option of a preemptive strike (though it is also worth mentioning that despite the setback such an attack would cause on Iran’s nuclear program, the potential for their recovery over the course of many years is still a scary one, especially with the added factor of US-Iran tension in a post-strike world).

  17. Throughout the interview, it seems like Iran is trying to maintain some last card to play to caution the United States from intervening. This is possibly driven by Iran’s impression that, as Tommaso wrote above, it is them versus the rest of the world; they appear to be operating due to the belief that the United States is anti-Iran rather than anti-Iran’s nuclear program, and they potentially could fear the United States’ intervention and attempt to shut down other sectors of their society besides the nuclear agenda. This plausible strategy is twofold, firstly attempting to portray themselves as the victim of United States bullying; by arguing that Iran discontinued its enriched uranium production voluntarily, Salehi is attempting to paint the United States economic sanctions as unnecessary and cruel. Unfortunately, this attempt appears to be drawing a further division between the two nations and causing Iran to retreat further from wishing to proceed with the Geneva agreement. Related to the Geneva agreement, Iran’s threat that it will begin to produce 60% enriched uranium (which is much higher than the amount needed for scientific research and could only be used in the production of nuclear weapons) should the United States choose to pursue sanctions against the nation reads like an attempt at a provocative trump card. Iran is trying to discourage the United States from using sanctions, lest Iran completely abandon all pretense (regardless of whether it is true now) to be using enriched uranium for scientific purposes and create a much more dire, aggressive situation. Though Iran appears to be using this victimizing and provoking strategy to keep the United States at bay, it is likely not an arrangement with which the United States will be comfortable.

  18. I tend to agree that the de-escalation of nuclear threat in Iran has relied on priorly agreed upon measures, I don’t think that this happened without significant outside intervention. In particular, I think the economic sanctions have been the impetus for Iran to negotiate with the international community on its nuclear program. The crippling effect of these sanctions, and the domestic political response they generate, has much more potential to drive Iran to the negotiating table than a preemptive strike. Especially when considering the shadow of the future, it seems much more costly in the long run to use force rather than coercion against a nuclear-capable Iran. The change needs to come from within Iran, relying on the political levers of domestic public opinion rather than external mandates that lack credibility given the states issuing them.

  19. In general it seems to me that there is too much being read into the “tone” that Dr. Salehi used in his interview. As much as the U.S. would like him to just bow his head and take it, it seems common sense that given his position and national affiliation he would still be speaking with the intention of pandering to some of his own people. While, as you suggest, this might also include pandering to extremist groups, it does not strike me as anything more extreme than any national political figure trying to appeal to his own and of course he will try to take some of the U.S. power away in the decision to do so. In the end, it makes sense that the economic sanctions did in fact work but that they are pretending it was their own initiative to try to increase their power.
    Regarding the Kroenig’s article, I’m a bit concerned over how empty it is in terms of timelines and hard evidence regarding Iran’s nuclear capabilities. His entire premise is based on a fact that he never proves or at least adds some context to. Time and time again he says that it will be preferable to resort to a use of force against Iran’s nuclear facilities now than face an Iran with fully developed nuclear capabilities. Assuming, for the moment, that this premise is true, there are still a lot of questions left to be answered about how likely such a scenario is. I could easily claim that a tactical strike against North Korea would be preferable to them obtaining Nuclear weapons and this might be a valid position, but this is meaningless without talking about the real potential for North Korea to develop these and be able to use them against the U.S. or its allies. While Kroenig briefly acknowledges something along these lines, implying that North Korea’s capabilities are so far behind that he does not consider them a real threat, he must still be held to much more rigorous standards in discussing Iran’s capabilities and proving that they are as real a threat as he suggests. As a rule an article whose argument is set up in this way as the only alternative to an obviously worse outcome strikes me as facile and shallow, but if you’re going to run it you should at least prove that “strictly worse” case beyond the shadow of a doubt, which Kroenig does not even begin to do.

  20. …Based on the tone of the Kroenig article and the interview with Dr. Salehi and the blame shifting that is occurring, I am unsure whether this situation is one of an oppressed Iran attempting to ward off the invasive US and others, or an Iran that is trying to sneak in weapons capability behind the backs of the international community. In his interview, Dr. Salehi was defensive about the ‘concessions’ that the international community had gotten from them and claiming that this had all been decided internally. The Kroenig article takes this unwillingness to claim these events as concessions as Iran resisting the international attempts to prevent a nuclear weaponized Iran and calls for immediate bombing in order to stop what must be a threat to the international community. Dr. Sadehi’s tone may fill me with unease about how he seems to ignore the international community’s influence, but I worry more about the gung ho attitude of the Kroenig article. Is it suddenly our right to bomb nations that have some less than cooperative communication with us and COULD build nuclear weapons? Wouldn’t such an action on the world stage drive other 3rd world countries that are not as powerful as the US to secretly weaponize nuclear power in order to prevent what could be seen as an unprovoked bombing by a more powerful nation? I’d think that suddenly more countries would want the deterrent power that comes from having nuclear arms. In all, I’d say the militaristic view of the Kroenig article has me more concerned than Iran’s unwillingness to confess other nation’s ability to influence domestic decisions.

  21. When one says that it is “difficult to tell what exactly they are up to,” it is likely more a failure on the part of our press to interpret signals from the Iranian government or a failure of our government to translate what those signals mean. I’m sure Professor Mousavian will talk about this on Thursday, but I got the chance to listen to him speak right after the most recent nuclear deal was passed earlier this year and he essentially said that he had proposed almost identical terms to the Bush Administration in 2004 that were rejected. His analysis was that the US position had changed from the impossible goal of “not a single centrifuge” to a tacit acceptance of Iranian nuclear ambitions.

    But going back to signals, most people don’t realize how the Iranian government is organized. It is a two-tiered system based off the idea of “the guardianship of the jurists,” which places the Islamic jurists in a position of absolute veto over the elected government. Essentially, Ali Khamenei (the Supreme Leader) is able to heavily influence which candidates are allowed to run and which ones receive the backing of the jurists. The election of Rouhani is a way for Khamenei to strongly signal that, while he himself cannot come out solidly for negotiations, he is capably of an attitude shift/adjustment towards the US. (For more info: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-24304548)

    As for Kroenig, his view is a little too simplistic for me, especially considering how he essentially stuck to his position from 2012, even though the situation and opportunity for a final deal are closer than they’ve ever been. This deal, with its 6 month window, inherently carries the threat of a military attack on Iranian targets if it is violated. We just don’t say anything like that publicly for the same reason that we shouldn’t pass laws approving new sanctions in the case of negotiation failure: it would tinge the whole process with extreme hostility and derail any chance of a deal. Even if you are holding the gun up against your opponent’s back, you don’t flaunt it in front of their constituents. A far more subtle way to tackle this problem (the way that Clinton and Kerry have been approaching it) is to apply several different policy options to force a final deal. (This article lays out 8 of them, including military force) http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2012/09/26/eight_ways_to_deal_with_iran

  22. It seems to me that the Iranian position has the potential to pose a threatening development of nuclear capability. Although their target is to have economic development through nuclear power, it then becomes hard to distinguish nuclear power capabilities and nuclear weapon capabilities. The Iranian position pushes threateningly on justification outlined in the Geneva deal, but is tempting to politicize the issue in a way that the US has no sure footing or a strong ability to verify the nuclear production in their country. In this case, the root cause of this current tension lies in an imbalance proposed through the Geneva deal. It makes sense to me then that Iran feels it is part of an unequal deal and is posturing to try and undermine the legitimacy of a power monopoly over nuclear capabilities. This is troublesome because it poses the position that the current international policy on arms control is unjust globally and gives potential for other, more unstable nations to pursue nuclear capabilities as well. Iran is tempting the US to push against sanction with the threat of developing further capacity. A troublesome underlying issue arises that if nations begin to push the boundaries, how should the US respond and what precedent is set by its response. Overall this situation seems to highlight that current international nuclear policy is not completely adequate to address contemporary nuclear issues.

  23. It seems unlikely, with the way President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have handled issues in the Middle East and Iran so far, that the US would use preemptive force to address Iran’s potential intent to develop nuclear weapons. If a Republican is elected in 2016 this could become a completely different story. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, two likely contenders for the Republican nomination, have adopted a hawkish rhetoric on foreign policy and the Middle East similar to that of George W Bush. (Though they’d rather be compared to Reagan) Ted Cruz has already said he believes Obama has erred in not aggressively intervening in Syria, Libya (after Benghazi), and Ukraine. Just two weeks ago he spoke on this issue, “If Iran acquires a nuclear weapon, the risk is unacceptable that that weapon will be detonated over the skies of Tel Aviv or New York or Los Angeles…” Seems to me that he, and many of the other leaders in the Republican party, would be more likely to justify a preemptive attack…

  24. I agree that diplomatic solutions and negotiations represent the best options on the table as of now, but there are some underlying points, mostly listed above, that have to be taken into consideration in deciding how to approach those negotiations. First, it is clear that Iran is still willing to maintain some transparency about their nuclear programs; this is a positive sign. On the negative side, the conception from the interview with Dr. Salehi of “us vs them” is problematic. Further aggravating the situation, diplomatic negotiations have clearly not worked thus far, considering the disregard for the Geneva talks. As Dr. Salehi mentioned in the video, all the progress away from Iran’s nuclear program have been of their own accord. Thus, I see two possible actions emerging. First, we can continue more passive negotiations. Iran’s stance proves significant here. It seems a certain degree of pride is dictating Iran’s actions. There is a line of research that touches on just this, pointing to powers that are declining in relative standing to others becomes more aggressive and assertive in an attempt to gain prestige (if interested, see “Why Leaders Chose War” by Jonathan Renshon). Iran’s defiance may be attributable to this decline in prestige. Thus, the US could benefit from recognizing this and approaching Iran with an increased level of respect. Another diplomatic solution could be to take a bet on the respect the US has to give another red line that must not be crossed. Most would not challenge the US on this front, though we have seen this fail in Syria. The above are some thoughts to consider in constructing a diplomatic approach to negotiations. In the end, a preemtive strike could do much more damage than benefit.

  25. What do you mean that Rouhani is in charge and the Ayatollah no longer calls the shots? Nothing goes on in Iran without the Supreme Leader’s consent. As another commenter explained earlier, the Ayatollahs have veto power over the elected government. Rouhani has no real power; Iranian foreign policy is ultimately a reflection of Khamenei’s will. This is why the situation is so concerning. The guy that’s often vehemently calling for the “complete annihilation of the Zionist cancerous tumor” is the one calling the shots. The rhetoric change since Rouhani’s accession might be nothing more than that.

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