Monday, January 24, 2011

The Iran End Goal

As we mentioned in The Short List last week, new talks are underway between Iran, the US, and a handful of other nations.  According to Matthew Fuhrmann, Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, it's time for a diplomatic offensive.  The concept of a diplomatic offensive is maybe just slightly more ethereal then the concept of diplomacy itself, but I think Mr. Fuhrmann hits on the right tone, though I disagree with some of his points.

Mr. Fuhrmann's argument is largely predicated on the idea that Iran is "reaching a critical juncture about its willingness to build nuclear weapons."  From there, Mr. Fuhrmann considers how far Iran is willing to go for a nuclear weapon and at what price.  Correctly, he says that Iran is not North Korea, and it unwilling to starve its populace to achieve nuclear weapons technology.  The rest of the argument hinges on the notion that Iran can be convinced to abandon its nuclear program.

He believes setbacks that Iran has faced, both those designed by sanctions and those precipitated by a recent economic decline in Iran gives the world more time and a chance to later the tone.  "[H]arsh rhetoric, gradually tighter sanctions, and covert actions will not solve the problem," according to Mr. Fuhrmann, "it will only buy time."  Given the goal of having Iran abandon its nuclear program, and given this moment when Iran might be more amenable to negotiations, Fuhrmann advocates for some minor economic concessions to Iran.  Give them a little more carrot then stick, so to speak.  He believes giving Iran some concessions could help the US and our allies regain some trust with Iran, provided, of course, we followed through on the concessions.  From there more good will could be established and diplomacy could take its course as we, limitedly, welcome Iran back to the international fold and Iran abandons its nuclear program.

I agree with Mr. Fuhrmann that the tone is off, that concessions need to be on the table, and that sanctions serve to only delay Iran.  However, where I disagree is the idea that Iran will give up its nuclear program.  Given the current government, the current governing bodies, and the current toxic levels of enmity between the US and Iran, I can see no reason to believe abandonment of the program is on the minds of Iran's decision makers.  I tend to think that the acquisition of nuclear weapon technology is as much a matter of national pride as it is self defense for Iran.  Given that i don't think Iran will abandon its nuclear program anytime soon, I fall short in offering legitimate ways forward.  Suffice to say, concessions aren't a bad thing and they have to be part of the discussion, but clearly the whole strategy has to be tethered to what our end goal is.

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