Foreign Policy Blogs

What to do with Iran?

What to do with Iran?

European Union foreign policy Chief Javier Solana, left, with Irans chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili as they arrive for talks over Irans nuclear ambitions at a villa in Genthod, near Geneva, on Thursday.

Yesterday was a very historical day as the Iranian delegation met with the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, China and Russia in Geneva.  It is a little too soon to judge the efficacy of these talks, but there has been some positive news.  As the New York Times reported, Iran has agreed to open its newly revealed uranium enrichment plant near Qum to international inspection in the next two weeks and to send most of its openly declared enriched uranium outside Iran to be turned into fuel for a small reactor that produces medical isotopes.  While the talks are being hailed as a “constructive beginning”, there is still plenty of doubt regarding Iran’s intention to deliver on these promises.  President Obama reiterated these doubts in his remarks on the meeting of P5+1 with Iran:

This is a constructive beginning, but hard work lies ahead.  We’ve entered a phase of intensive international negotiations.  And talk is no substitute for action.  Pledges of cooperation must be fulfilled.  We have made it clear that we will do our part to engage the Iranian government on the basis of mutual interests and mutual respect, but our patience is not unlimited.

Since the big question on everyone’s mind is how we should proceed on Iran, here is some advice given on this topic by the experts:

Iran Sanctions: Who Really Wins?

By Djavad Salehi-Isfahani

In this Brookings analysis, Isfahani averred that the emerging consensus in Washington that new, “crippling” sanctions could persuade Iran to change its nuclear policy is based on false premises.  He points out that it is a specious argument that the existing sanctions are largely responsible for the weak state of Iran’s economy and the weak economy helped fuel the popular discontent that boiled over in Tehran’s streets this summer.

How to Press the Advantage With Iran

By Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett

In this New York Times Op-Ed, Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett opine that if President Obama seriously believes that a relationship with Iran is profoundly in our national interest, then he needs to take the step that President Richard Nixon took with his diplomatic opening with China.  Obama should “demonstrate acceptance of the Islamic Republic, even as problematic Iranian behavior continued in the near term.”  Leverett and Leverett argue for a pragmatic approach that would require:

INSTEAD of pushing the falsehood that sanctions will give America leverage in Iranian decision-making – a strategy that will end either in frustration or war – the administration should seek a strategic realignment with Iran as thoroughgoing as that effected by Nixon with China. This would require Washington to take steps, up front, to assure Tehran that rapprochement would serve Iran’s strategic needs.

On that basis, America and Iran would forge a comprehensive framework for security as well as economic cooperation – something that Washington has never allowed the five-plus-one group to propose. Within that framework, the international community would work with Iran to develop its civil nuclear program, including fuel cycle activities on Iranian soil, in a transparent manner rather than demanding that Tehran prove a negative – that it’s not developing weapons. A cooperative approach would not demonize Iran for political relationships with Hamas and Hezbollah, but would elicit Tehran’s commitment to work toward peaceful resolutions of regional conflicts.

Some may say that this is too high a price to pay for improved relations with Iran. But the price is high only for those who attach value to failed policies that have damaged American interests in the Middle East and made our allies there less secure.

Over a Barrel: Why Iran Sanctions Won’t Work

By Pamela Falk

In this CBS report, Falk argues that Iran’s vast oil reserves will undermine Obama administration efforts to increase U.N. sanctions.  Due to China’s energy needs, it is unlikely that the Security Council will ban international investment in Iran’s energy sector, ban insurance for Iran’s oil tankers, and ban Iranian oil imports.  The New York Times also has a great article on this topic: China’s Ties With Iran Complicate Diplomacy by Michael Wines.

How Badly Would Sanctions on Gas Imports Hurt Iran?

By Vivienne Walt

In this Time’s article, Walt shows that sanctions on gas imports will not be effective.  She points out that Iran has been preparing for these sanctions, and is importing far more than it was using.  Intelligence consultancy Stratfor noted last week that Iran has probably stockpiled at least three months’ worth of gasoline.  Furthermore, it is hard to predict if Chinese and Malaysian companies would bend to the same pressures that Western firms have to stop exports to Iran.  Also, in order to cut its local consumption, Iran can end its gas subsidies.  Iran can also boost his gas supplies by cracking down on rampant smuggling. About 10.6 million gal. (40 million L) of gas are smuggled out of Iran daily to neighboring countries like Azerbaijan, Afghanistan and Turkey, where it is sold at higher prices.

Lastly, as Walt points out all these efforts are stopgap methods to buy time, which is all Iran really needs to do.  Chinese firms and, until recently, India’s Reliance, have been working on massive upgrades of the country’s refineries.  According to the British ambassador to Iran until 2006, John Dalton, “If Iran can maintain its refinery upgrades, they’ll be self-sufficient in gas by 2013.”

Photo taken from the New York Times.



Sahar Zubairy

Sahar Zubairy recently graduated from the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas- Austin with Masters in Global Policy Studies. She graduated from Texas A&M University with Phi Beta Kappa honors in May 2006 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics. In Summer 2008, she was the Southwest Asia/Gulf Intern at the Henry L. Stimson Center, where she researched Iran and the Persian Gulf. She was also a member of a research team that helped develop a website investigating the possible effects of closure of the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf by Iran.